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2.5: What is the history of teacher education?

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    by Rebeca Coleman

    Learning Objectives

    • Students should be able to understand the beginnings of teacher education, starting in the ancient times.
    • Students should understand the progression from few requirements to many requirements to teach.


    Teacher education has changed quite a bit over the last few hundred years. Teachers have gone from scholars to men and women in a schoolroom to trained educators from specific schools. Over time though, the gift of being able to teach stayed true in those teachers.

    Before the Seventeenth Century

    In earlier times, priests and prophets taught noble and wealthy children skills that were needed to excel in business and politics. Priests were treated well because of their great knowledge. The first private teacher was Confucius in the fifth century BCE. In Ancient Greece, knowledge was considered very sacred and the same ideology passed through the time of Christianity. Education was not very popular among lower classes of people until after the Middle Ages. The Roman Catholic Church took responsibility and created centers of learning, which eventually became the great universities of Europe, including Cambridge (John’s 2003).

    The Beginnings of Specific Training


    "Children are guilty of unpardonable rudeness when they spit in the face of a companion; neither are they excusable who spit from windows or on walls or furniture." St. John Baptist de la Salle (de la Salle, 1695)

    Specific teacher training originated in France in 1685 by St. John Baptist de la Salle (Teacher 2007). The training spread through Europe through the monitorial system, which is the method of education where there are number of students at a bench, a monitor (older student) who is instructed by the teacher and then instructs the younger students, and then the teacher (Teacher 2007). It spread through Europe thanks to August Hermann Francke and Johann Pestalozzi. It came to the United States in the early 1800s through this system (Teacher 2007). Schools could be a student’s room in a wealthy household or a one-room schoolhouse for poorer groups of children.

    Teacher Education Moves to the United States

    Teachers were predominantly male before the early 1800s. Men were taught to read and write from the early days of language, and women were not taught very widely until the nineteenth century. This made it very difficult for them to teach. If a person could read and write, that person was basically qualified to teach. Teachers were chosen based on their moral quality by the local government (John’s 2003).

    In the 1820s, teacher training became important in the universities and academies in the United States. Women could only be taught in teacher training academies, while men could be taught in universities (History 2007). Samuel Hall created the first private normal after-high school teaching school which taught teachers in 1823. The first government funded normal school was created in Massachusetts in 1837 (John’s 2003). Henry Barnard and Horace Mann helped the spread of more normal teacher-education schools (Teacher 2007). More and more universities then began to take note and included teaching schools within them. By the end of the eighteenth century, there were 127 state-supported normal schools and a larger number of private normal schools (Angus 2001 p. 6).

    Teachers were starting to be required to be certified in the late nineteenth century (Angus 2001 p. 4). Pennsylvania was the first state in 1834 to require tests to show general knowledge of arithmetic, writing, and reading (Ravitch 2003). And by the middle of the nineteenth century, most other states required this sort of testing. This was a huge development because before this testing came about on the state level, teachers only had to prove themselves to the cities and counties and that usually rested upon a teacher’s morality. By mid-century, the test also started to require history, spelling, grammar, and geography (Ravitch 2003).

    Teaching Styles and Schools

    There were two different types of teaching styles-eastern and western. Eastern normal schools mainly taught to young women with no prior teaching experience, and aimed at teaching them for elementary education. The western normal schools taught mainly older students, especially more men, and the teaching was aimed at getting young women better jobs and then young men better administrative jobs (Angus 2001). This difference in teaching led to a change from normal schools to teaching schools in the late 1800s. There also became more requirements to attend teaching schools.

    The first two graduate schools in education were established at New York University (1887) and then Teachers College, Columbia University (1888), and since then graduate programs have increased exponentially (Teacher 2007). Graduate schools gave the idea to teachers to consider themselves as a profession, which became a very controversial idea in the twentieth century, and continues to remain one today.

    The Twentieth Century

    By the beginning of the twentieth century, there came about the idea to make teaching more of a profession, with specific standards for certification. At this point, every state had different standards. There also was dispute because, since the creation of graduate programs, teachers wanted to be considered a profession, just like law and medicine, but they were not considered such to the professional world. This was mostly because it was such a new idea for it to be a profession, and also there were no specific standards yet. So the American Council on Education established a National Teacher’s Examination in the 1930s (Ravitch 2007). This was very controversial. There was a large setback with this test because of World War II. There was a teacher shortage, and school systems did not have the luxury of caring if a teacher was properly certified or not. After World War II, though, it became more received. The requirements for having the testing became more rigorous (Angus 2001 p. 21).


    Some people argue that teachers should better themselves and should learn the latest teaching research to stay on top of everything, much like in the medical field with new medical advancements (Ravitch 2007). People like this argue that teaching cannot become a viable profession until such measures are taken to learn from history and continue to learn from research. Some people question the competency of teacher’s policy analysis (Martinez 2008).

    My Beliefs


    "What is nobler than to mold the character of the young? I consider that he who knows how to form the youthful mind is truly greater than all painters, sculptors and all others of that sort." St. John Chrysostom (Chrysostom)

    I believe that teaching is a profession in itself. I think it is important along with law and medicine in the professional field. Where would doctors and lawyers be without the teachers who taught them? I believe that teachers should educate themselves and keep up-to-date on current research and ideas. Technology is wonderful and should be integrated into classrooms, especially with younger generations now growing up entirely in a technologically advanced world.


    Angus, D. L. Professionalism and the Public Good: A Brief History of Teacher Certification. (2001). Retrieved September 17, 2008 from Educational Resources Information Center.

    Crysostom, J. Retrieved from

    De la Salle, J. B. (1695). Retrieved from,a1155.html

    John’s History of Education. (2003). Retrieved September 17, 2008, from

    Martinez, M. (2008, September 1). Competencies and Higher Education Policy Analysts [Abstract]. Educational Policy, 22 (5), 623-639. Retrieved from SAGE Journals Online. doi:10.1177/0895904807307068

    Ravitch, D. Strengthen Teacher Quality (2003, August 23). Retrieved from

    Teacher Training. (2007). In The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Retrieved September 17, 2008, from