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Education for the Educators- the history of teacher training

While the first public schools opened in America in the 1630s, the first formal training for teachers would not be initiated until almost 200 years later. Basically, anyone who attended school, and could pass as literate, was allowed to teach. Since few women were given the opportunity to learn, the profession remained predominantly male into the 1800s. Dr. Humphrey, the president of Amherst College in the 1820s, was quoted by author Charles H. Harper in his work A Century of Public Teacher Education, as saying “…The majority would be dismissed and advised to go back to their domestic and rural employments, if competent instructors could be had.”

Male teachers often moved on to other professions that paid better. Women, forbidden to marry, and receiving less pay than the men, frequently began teaching in their teens, lasting only a few years before leaving the profession for matrimony. It would be another hundred years before teaching was looked on as an honorable and skilled profession, thanks in part to the improved training and quality of the teacher trainees.

Teacher training became available in the latter 1820s, in what were the secondary schools of today. Because women were forbidden to enter the men’s preparatory schools, these academies were their only resort. A private “Normal” school, created solely for the purpose of administering a two year course of instruction for teachers, was opened in 1823, by Samuel R. Hall. The state of Massachusetts followed with a government funded public Normal school in 1839.

Henry Barnard, the Connecticut lawyer and legislator, was passionately interested in improvements to the school system, and in tandem with Horace Mann of Massachusetts, also a lawyer and legislator who had come late to education, he fostered a rapid growth in the number of Normal schools in the late 1800s. Their emphasis, however, was on elementary school teachers, and training for those at the secondary level, was still the province of liberal arts colleges, and would remain so until after World War II when rising school attendance demanded more teachers than the colleges were turning out.

Supplementing the regular Normal schools, were “county normals” and teacher’s institutes, some of which remained as alternative training methods beyond the turn of the century. Normals would put on “summer schools”- short, intensive periods of teacher instruction, whereby a promising student could supplement their basic schooling with additional skills and enter the school system. County Normals, often sponsored by the County School board, and staffed by an academics master and a practical instructor, offered the budding teacher who couldn’t afford even institute training, the opportunity to get their training for free…if they would teach for the following year.

As the new century dawned, many Normal schools were re-structured into four year, degree granting programs, although the first graduate program in education was implemented at New York University in 1887. Teacher’s College, Columbia University, which still operates today, was established the following year.