Here in Texas, our children have returned to the classroom. My three kids were up early Monday morning, making lunches, packing backpacks, and rushing off to the first day of school. My oldest is starting her senior year of high school. Gasp! Not sure mom is quite ready for what that means. But whether mom is ready or not, it has begun.
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. My youngest is starting 8th grade this year, and I can’t even imagine him having enough knowledge to turn around and teach.
As more settlers headed west and communities grew, so did the demand for teachers with a 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, a teacher studying there would have taken courses in the following areas:
- 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?
The heroine in my latest release is a teacher of exceptional youths, or what we would call today – gifted children or child prodigies.
In honor of teachers across the country who are getting back into their classrooms, I’ll be giving away an autographed copy of A Worthy Pursuit to one reader who leaves a comment.
Tell me about you favorite first-day-of-school memory. What made you excited, what you dreaded. How long it took you to pick out the perfect outfit. Anything related to the first day – kindergarten through college. Or maybe your first day as a teacher, if that is your profession. Anything is fair game.
Have fun! 🙂