Teachers

Throughout much of Michigan's past virtually anyone was allowed to teach, particularly in rural schools. In rural districts the pay was always low and the school teacher was often a young, unmarried woman, frequently still in her teens. Johanna Smith Rasmussen typified this trend. In 1924 she began teaching. Crowley School, Mount Pleasant, undated

The first day of school I was greeted by fourteen pupils. These were students in the sixth, seventh, eighth and tenth grades. Three were very near my own age. Somehow I was accepted as their teacher and we started learning together. It was a good year and truthfully I learned as much, if not more than my students.

Rural school teachers enjoyed neither vacation nor sick time. After state laws mandated a specific number of school days to be taught, rural teachers made up any absences by teaching extra days at the end of the school year. Rose Hamlin Tennis, who taught in various one-room schools in the mid-Michigan area, recalled how an appendicitis operation in mid-year closed school for several days which were made up in June.

Although some women made teaching their career, a substantial number of women taught for only a year or two, then married and moved on to new challenges. This pattern, as well as the relatively low pay given most one-room school teachers, led to very high turnover among teachers. By way of example, the Pleasant Hill School in Montcalm county had ninety-nine teachers in the eighty-six years the school operated, between 1873 and 1959.

Marriage was seen as a critical event that many local school boards tried to discourage until the end of the academic year. Many school boards required teachers to sign a contract granting the board authority to discharge a female teacher who married during the school year. Some contracts regulated the teacher's social life, required that she be at home by 8:00 p.m. unless later hours were explicitly approved by the school board and forbidding her from attending social functions other than those sponsored by the school itself or a church.

Teacher Education

At the beginning of the nineteenth century virtually anyone who wished to be a teacher could do so. As a consequence students were often subjected to teachers unprepared for the classroom. Charles A. Harper, in A Century of Public Teacher Education, pp 12-13, quotes Dr. Humphrey, president of Amherst College of in the 1820s and an early proponent of teacher education

I might quote their complaints till sunset, that it is impossible to have good schools for want of good teachers. Many who offer themselves are deficient in everything; in spelling, in reading, in penmanship, in geography, in grammar, and in common arithmetic. The majority would be dismissed and advised to go back to their domestic and rural employments, if competent instructors could be had.

Humphrey's frustration over poorly qualified teachers was caused, in part, by a fundamental shift in what he and other educational reformers of the early nineteenth century believed education should accomplish. "Schooling," as it was commonly understood at the beginning of the nineteenth century, was primarily memorization. Printed material was given the student to be committed to memory. The "teacher's" task was to help the child remember the printed word and test the student by holding the book while the child repeated the lesson from memory. In a system with such a modest goal, the teacher's own education could be quite modest, consisting of little more than literacy.

Educational reformers, however, wanted schools to go beyond memory and help children discover their potential. To accomplish this, reformers demanded more broadly educated teachers who could help children develop their individual skills. Re-inventing education as skill development rather than memorization originated in Germany and France but was quickly advocated by reformers in the United States. To accomplish their goal in America reformers realized the need for a school to educate teachers.

Massachusetts established America's first normal schools, in 1839. In 1849 the Michigan legislature voted to establish Michigan's first normal school, as well as the first such school west of the Appalachian Mountains. The legislature believed that by creating a more educated farmer better public school teachers would lead to greater economic prosperity. Although the legislature hoped for important results from the state's normal school, selection of the city in which it was to be located was based on more mundane considerations. After some debate the school was given to Ypsilanti, primarily because the community offered to raise $13,500 to help support the institution and was the highest "bidder" among the five communities seriously petitioning the legislature.

Although Michigan was the first "western" state to establish a normal school, it lagged behind other midwestern states in the development of such institutions. By 1880 Wisconsin had established four normal schools, while Minnesota had three. Michigan's second normal school was not founded until 1892. Located in Mount Pleasant, the school was primarily focused on educating teachers for rural school districts. The legislature quickly supplemented the newly formed normal school in Mount Pleasant with additional normals in Kalamazoo and Marquette.

members of Central's class of 1912, from top, Jennie C. McClellan, Cass City; Clyde J. Bollinger, Lakeview; Edith L. Mansell, Mt. Pleasant The curriculum offered at normal schools was of a practical bent. Future teachers learned reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammar, spelling, composition, and other subjects that would serve as the core of their own teaching when they ventured forth from the normal. Subjects such as music an drawing were added to the curriculum in the 1870's, when it became clear that teachers who could play an instrument or also offer art instruction could more readily find jobs. Although the faculty of traditional colleges often looked down on the normals because they did not offer a classical curriculum, those involved in the normal movement often took considerable pride in the fact that their schools glorified common, everyday learning.

In the twentieth century normal schools transformed themselves into teacher colleges. As colleges, the "normals" developed four year curriculums and were authorized to award degrees, rather than certificates. Michigan State Normal, in Ypsilanti, was among the first normals in the nation to accomplish the transformation into a college. In 1897 the state legislature designated Michigan State Normal a college and authorized the institution to confer college degrees. When the college granted its first bachelor's degree in 1905 it was the first normal school in the nation to do so. Despite this transformation into degree-granting institutions, teacher colleges in the first half of the twentieth century saw themselves as being distinguished from pre-existing state colleges and universities by their more limited mission. It was only in the latter half of the twentieth century, when higher education expanded in ways completely unanticipated by earlier generations, that many teacher colleges again transformed themselves, this time into universities that helped meet American society's seemingly unquenchable desire for a college education.

Although normal schools represented an important and eventually dominant trend in teacher education throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth century substantial numbers of teachers entered the teaching profession without the benefit of a normal school education. Low teacher salaries made it economically difficult for many future teachers to expend large sums of money obtaining teacher education. Taxpayers were at best ambiguous about improving the salaries paid to teachers or toward allocating money for normal schools needed only if one accepted the reformers new theory of education. As a result many alternatives to the normal school existed up until approximately 1940.

The two most common alternatives to attendance at a normal were teacher institutes and "county normals." Institutes were frequently sponsored by the normals themselves during the summer months. Institutes offered short, intensive periods of study in which rural teachers could obtain or refine their skills. Although some normal school faculty frowned on these "quick courses," through the 1920s they offered prospective teachers a quicker, less expensive way to begin their career.

County normals were similar to institutes but were usually organized by the county school commissioner with the assistance of the school districts in the county and the state. County normals were organized annually during the summer. They were ad hoc creations that offered very short courses focused on practical skills. County normals were often taught by only two "faculty members," an individual who delivered the "academic" instruction deemed necessary and a "master teacher" who offered practical advice. Because the courses were short, close to home, and often free if the student promised to teach the next year in the county, many young persons who could not afford to attend even a summer Institute at a normal school gained entry into the teaching profession through the county normal. County normal graduates were authorized to teach only in the county which had sponsored the normal, however in at least some instances counties recognized each others normal school as acceptable training and allowed graduates from one county to teach in another.

 


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