Have you ever heard of a Normal School? That’s Normal with a capital N—not normal as in everyday or run-of-the-mill. I first encountered this terminology when I began researching 19th century teaching colleges. In the American West, teachers were often little more than former students who had completed the 8th grade and gone on to pass a teacher’s examination. However, as more settlers headed west and communities grew, so did the need for teachers with higher education.
In the early 1800s, schoolmasters were men. They ruled their classrooms with discipline and authority. Yet in the 1830s when tax-supported common schools made education more widely available, the result was a teacher shortage that left the door open for women.
“God seems to have made woman peculiarly suited to guide and develop the infant mind, and it seems…very poor policy to pay a man 20 or 22 dollars a month, for teaching children the ABCs, when a female could do the work more successfully at one third of the price.” — Littleton School Committee, Littleton, Massachusetts, 1849
By the time of the Civil War, women dominated the teaching field. However, if a woman wanted to set herself apart, to establish herself as a professional, she required training that went beyond the rudimentary grammar schooling of her peers. She needed a diploma from a reputable Normal School.
Normal Schools were two-year academies designed to grant teachers a mastery of the subjects taught in the common schools as well as giving them a practical knowledge of teaching methodology. Normal Schools prided themselves on their thorough, cohesive, and “scientific” curriculum. They would provide a norm for all teachers (hence the term Normal School) that would assure a level of quality generally unavailable previously.
The Boston Normal School, for example, was established in 1872. According to a regulation manual published in 1888, her courses would have included the following:
- Mental and Moral Science and Logic
- Physiology and Hygiene
- Natural Science
- Study of Language
- Elementary Studies
- Principles of Education, School Economy, and Methods of Instruction
- Vocal Music, Drawing, and Blackboard Illustration
- Observation and Practice in the Training School
- Observation and Practice in other public schools
Not so very different from our current teacher education programs, is it?
So who were some teachers that made an impact in your life?