Popular Science Monthly/Volume 45/October 1894/The Professional Training of Teachers


By M. V. O'SHEA.

ONE whose attention has been directed to the great activity which has taken hold of the modern educational world can not but have concluded that teaching has come to be regarded as a more or less difficult art, for which considerable preparation must be made in order that one shall be fitted to do it at all well. The present age has not been heir to such a view as this, however; for it has been comparatively recent that men have grown to consider the imparting of instruction successfully as an art to be acquired; they have looked upon it rather as an instinct that is born with its possessor, and that shows itself in some such spontaneous manner as do other characteristics and habits that lie outside of personal thought or control. The maxim that poets are "born, not made," has been applied with much vigor also to the great majority of teachers, who have themselves oftentimes not thought it necessary or expedient to make any definite preparation for their calling, other than to acquire a certain familiarity with the arithmetic or grammar or geography, knowledge of which they innocently hope to pour into their pupils' minds out of their own store of facts in these subjects. Educational practice of to-day, however, is not wholly in sympathy with the declaration that a teacher's art is born with him and can not be acquired; for it has provided elaborate means for the making of teachers, or at least for affording them opportunities to greatly improve upon what Nature has done for them. This has grown out of the belief that teaching is founded upon a science, and its successful practice must be acquired by special study and apprenticeship, just as with any other art, like civil engineering or architecture or medicine. Confidence in this opinion has spread widely throughout our own and other countries, and has resulted in the vast increase of means whereby every teacher may now have opportunity to become possessed in some measure of those special acquirements which, it is believed, are essential in order that he shall deal wisely with childhood in the schoolroom.

Previous to the eighteenth century there seems to have been no adequate conception of the training of mind as being amenable to the rules and methods of science. It was probably not thought that the mental life was subject to laws the nature of which could be ascertained, and which would have to be followed if there would be any success in leading the mind to attain those ends which should be kept constantly in view in all educational work. The teacher, then, would be successful according to the measure of his instinctive apprehension of the peculiar nature of each pupil's mind; and there would not be much opportunity to increase his success by careful observation and study of a large number of children. The first recognition of teaching as an art, founded upon a rather indefinite science of the mind, seems to have been shown by the Jesuits in the seventeenth century, when they required every individual who should teach in their schools to spend two or three years as an apprentice, observing the ways of a master, who was supposed to have become familiar with the best art of teaching through his own experience in observation and experimentation. Later, Ratich urged that teaching was an art, and that those who were to practice it must become familiar with its rules and devices before trying it, lest those whom they should attempt to instruct should suffer by their ignorance and unskillfulness until experience should have taught them wisdom. In the eighteenth century Francke embodied this idea in his schools at Halle, requiring that all his teachers should, before being fully admitted to the profession, spend two or three years in observing others teach, and in reflecting upon the difficulties to be met with and devising means to overcome them. This was the forerunner of the "teacher's seminary," which has latterly spread throughout Germany and all the progressive countries of Europe; and which has crossed over the waters to our own land, where a different name has been taken, but where the same ends are aimed at. Previous to 1833 there were in France, according to Guizot, forty-seven primary normal schools, while at present there are one hundred and seventy-one well-equipped institutions, all of which have become governmental institutions. In 1827 David Stowe established the first normal seminary in Great Britain, at Glasgow; and such great popularity did this attain that other institutions of the same kind sprang up rapidly throughout Scotland and England, while training colleges and professorships of pedagogy in the universities have also been established. The first normal school in our own country began operations at Lexington, Mass., in 1829, and now there is not a State in the Union that has not several of these schools, supported at public expense; while normal colleges and professorships of pedagogy are meeting with favor and multiplying in all parts of the country.

In America there is a problem to be met in the training of teachers that gives very little trouble to many of the countries of the Old World. In Germany, Austria, France, and the other important nations of Europe, teaching has come to be regarded as a profession which, when an individual once enters, he rarely deserts, holding to it for life the same as if he had engaged in the practice of medicine or law. The population of these countries is practically constant, making it possible to determine pretty definitely about how many teachers will be required each year to meet the demands of the public schools. On this account the teacher is reasonably certain of finding and holding a place in his profession if he enters it properly prepared; and the governments of these countries can say that no teacher shall engage in the practice of his profession until he shall have had the normal school or training-seminary preparation, which is provided free, under the provision that the beneficiary shall devote himself during his life, or a certain portion of it, to the work of teaching in the public institutions of the country. In our own country teaching is not yet regarded as a profession to any great extent; and a majority of those engaged in it do not continue in it for a long time, perhaps not more than two or three years. The greater number of teachers are women whose tenure of office in the schools is tentative, depending upon the time when they shall find more attractive life work; while most of the men who enlist under the banner of the schoolmaster do so only as preliminary to engaging in other and more remunerative professions when fortune favors. This uncertainty in things makes a thorough and systematic training of teachers in anything like completeness impossible in our own country at the present time. However, so thoroughly is it recognized by those familiar with the question that teaching is an art to be improved upon by special study, even by those possessing the most favorable endowments, that provisions are made for some professional training of every candidate for a place as master in the schools. This is done through teachers' institutes in all the States, summer schools, teachers' training classes in the high schools, normal schools, and departments and chairs of pedagogy in the universities; and by means of these agencies almost every teacher receives more or less professional instruction which enables her to grasp the problem she is to undertake in the management of a school in a more skilled and scientific manner. But, while not disparaging the work done by any and all of these agencies, it must still be said that it is to our normal schools that we must look for anything like that preparation and training which must be demanded of our teachers before our schools shall be able to realize adequately those ends for which they are established and maintained.

Something has been written against the normal-school idea by those who feel that the art of teaching successfully must spring up spontaneously out of the teacher's nature, since if it comes in any other way, through study and apprenticeship, it will be stilted, forced, and unnatural; and it is further urged that teachers who are thus made are more harmful than none at all. It has been held in some quarters that the normal school puts into the hands of its students a system of artificial makeshifts that prevent the outworking of individuality, and reduce all teaching to mere mechanism and parrotlike imitation. "They make fine-working machines of our teachers," some still say, "but we would rather have spontaneous activity, even though ignorant and crude, than the finest action on the part of a machine." This criticism of the normal school has served a wholesome purpose in breaking up any tendency toward mechanism and spiritless, formal methods of teaching which might have been displayed in its earlier inception. It seems to be always true that in the beginning of any great institution like the normal school the letter and not the spirit will be at first emphasized; but in the process of healthy evolution the mechanical part becomes simply the means of expression of the principles and truths underlying. This has, no doubt, been true of the normal school; and, in its steady growth toward a more scientific basis for all it does, it has come to pass that at the present time its work in the training of teachers is made to cover the broadest and fullest possible view of the human being and the purpose of his education. It is recognized that the process of education from first to last is dependent upon laws of the human mind, and it is partly the province of the normal school to determine what those laws are. And further, when the aims and ends of education have been decided upon, the normal school must show what are the simplest, most speedy, and most certain ways of attaining those ends. If we look briefly at the work of the normal school as we have it now, we shall see that the charge of its being unduly mechanical and too feebly scientific can not be applied to it in its present stage of evolution.

The one ruling aim which gives character to the professional work in the normal school is the purpose to awaken in the teacher a consciousness that there is a science of education, and an art of teaching founded upon that science; to arouse in her an earnest, indefatigable ambition to become acquainted with the best in both, and, most important of all, to lead her to realize this in her own work. The distinguishing characteristic of professional instruction, which marks it off from purely academic study, is the attempt to acquaint students with the teaching aspect of subjects of instruction, and to lead them to become students of all the conditions in their schoolrooms that affect the action of the minds of pupils in responding to all the means of stimulation which the teacher consciously makes use of to attain the ends of development. In other words, it is aimed to make the teacher conscious of her art—conscious in the sense that she will intelligently consider the growing, developing mind, acting according to definite, exact laws; and that she will attempt to wisely use the agencies at her disposal in harmony with these laws to accomplish in the most ready manner the highest possible ends of school training. It appears, then, that the entire work in the professional training of teachers consists of an investigation into the laws and principles of mind activity, always followed by the effort to rightly adapt the means of stimulation in the schoolroom (the various subjects of instruction) to attain the full, harmonious, capable development of child-nature. In the normal school this work is usually divided into several branches, which, however, are very vitally related, and which are always arranged in the natural order of sequence. The following is, in general, a very brief outline of the work which is usually attempted in each branch:

I. Psychology.— The professional work is most naturally begun by reflection upon the nature of the mind to be educated, endeavoring to find those laws and principles according to which its normal activity is regulated in order that we may intelligently wield the means of stimulation to secure its most natural and speedy development. There are two methods which may be followed in this study: The first assumes that the mind is an inert object which can be abstracted from all concrete cases, and by an analytic process separated into its logical parts. As a result of this treatment we have a formal science of psychology, dealing with the powers and attributes of the so-called faculties of the mind, in the same way that we have a formal science of mathematics, physics, and so on, that treat of characteristic subject-matter in a logical way. The second method, which has come to be followed most largely now in our training schools, regards the mind as a growing, developing, assimilating power, and it is sought to become acquainted with it while under these natural conditions of activity. A knowledge of the mental life gained in this latter way will be very different from that acquired by purely formal study where the mind is considered apart from all concrete instances, and laws and principles are deduced which may, be applicable to it in general, but which have no reference to the peculiar and distinguishing characteristics of specific instances, nor of the manifold modifying conditions under which all activity, as induced by educational agencies, occurs. It should be, and usually is, the aim to lead the prospective teacher to become somewhat familiar with the concrete and developing mind under those conditions which necessarily exist in all school work. It is generally true that those who seek the normal school have not the time nor the breadth of philosophical training and culture to enable them to make the study of formal psychology profitable, although it would be most valuable for one who could spend years in thought and reflection upon the matter, and who would not need to make practical application at once of the principles which he had considered. It is coming to be appreciated that while a teacher need not, in order to do most intelligent work, be learned in the logical principles and divisions of mind activity, yet he does need to become acquainted with the action of the mind as it is manifested in the many concrete cases which are constantly before him in his daily work. He must come to feel that the mind acts according to law, definite, exact, and unerring, as well with reference to the subject-matter by which it is disciplined in the schools as to its reaction upon sense stimulus. He must be trained to observe the effect of all external conditions, bodily and otherwise, which do in any way modify or affect the mental and moral condition of the child; and it certainly can not be maintained that this study leads the teacher to become imitative and formal in his own class room.

Throughout all this work an effort is usually made to have the prospective teacher discover for himself the more obvious principles of mental activity, both by reflection upon the activities of his own mental life and by the observation of mind phenomena in the world about him. He is led to discern the intimate relation between body and mind, to discover for himself the law of mutual affection, and to trace the application of this fact in educational procedure. So it will be seen that the purpose is to initiate him into the habits of careful, intelligent observation of the facts of mental activity as displayed under the ordinary conditions of the class room, and to lead him to make correct, serviceable interpretations of what he observes. As an aid toward this, many normal schools include in their curricula special studies of child-nature in the concrete, in order to train teachers to habits of exact, scientific study of individual pupils under their charge, and also these individuals when they are combined into classes. The value of this work, when it is carried on intelligently, can not be overestimated; for it leads the teacher into those habits of trying to find some remediable cause for every undesirable manifestation of child-nature in the class room which constitute the most praiseworthy and serviceable attainments that those who deal with children can become possessed of. Such study is usually of great benefit to teachers by pointing out to them defects in vision and other physical imperfections in pupils, which render them incapable of the highest and best work which they could otherwise successfully undertake. The pupil teacher is made to realize that the environment of his own pupils will be a potent factor in determining the mental and moral effect which the means of stimulation in the school will have upon them; and he is further led to appreciate the maxim that in a great measure a teacher's success will depend upon his ability to perceive clearly the effect of external conditions, and to be able to arrange and modify them so that they will all operate toward the accomplishment of those ends which he is consciously seeking. It seems that such study as this will bring the teacher into broadest sympathy with child-nature, and will enable him to affect peculiar natures and dispositions in such manner as to establish wholesome and desirable ways of action. It certainly is not true that the teacher is made a machine by work of this character; on the contrary, he is brought into the highest possible freedom by finding the truth in the objects with which he is to deal. How infinitely more free he becomes than when he remains the creature of his own ignorance and preconceived notions of the one formal way to deal with child-nature!

II. The Science of Education.—It has already been said that the study of psychology, for the teacher, must be of such character that he will be enabled to apply it practically in the daily work of instruction in the schoolroom; for so long as it remains merely theoretical he has received no benefit from it whatever, at least so far as he is "professionally concerned. It follows readily, then, that the principles of the science of education must be gained simply as generalizations from the facts of psychology, viewed with reference to the conscious and scientific stimulation of the mind by educational agencies; and this is all that is attempted in this subject as the normal school has to deal with it. This study is but a continuation of the study of psychology from a special point of view—that of finding an order or method in education as determined by the facts which have been found in our observation of mind phenomena. It is continually emphasized in the normal school that all method in education is naturally and entirely dependent upon laws of mental growth and development. It is the purpose in this place to investigate the general principles which underlie all right educational procedure, with the end in view to lead the teacher to become conscious of the laws regulating the order both of the parts of the branches of instruction and of the branches themselves when they are considered with reference to training the mind; and it is believed that in this way he gains a knowledge of educational method and practice so wide and broad that there will be little danger of his mistaking the mechanism of school teaching, as exemplified by some individual who happens to be his instructor, for the true spirit as the body of it all. The ordinary student will not readily apply principles in which the concrete cases from which they are drawn are not clearly apparent; but in the consideration of such processes as induction, deduction, apperception, concentration, interest, attention, and so on, he will have no difficulty in seeing their universal application in all the work of instruction, especially if he is led to discover their importance by his own investigation.

There has been some objection on the part of certain philosophers to the proposition that there is or can be a science of education. It is maintained that, on account of the changeableness of-human life, the diversity of human nature, the varying ideals of educational practice, and so on, educational method must consequently be in a continual flux, with no certainty or definiteness about it. Perhaps all persons looking at a science of education from this point of view would agree that there must be a change of procedure to accommodate changing interests and ideals; but there is unanimity of opinion between educators and psychologists that the natural processes of the mind under stimulation by educational agencies do not vary for individuals or periods of time, or for theories as to the aims and ends of education. There is common agreement that the inductive process is the only one that the child mind can follow in getting its first knowledge of any branch of instruction, and this law must be universal. So, too, it is agreed that in every instance it is impossible to appropriate information of any character unless there is a swinging of the mind toward the object of which knowledge is to be gained, that is, unless there is an act of attention. And, again, it is coming to be realized more and more that there is a vital relation between the now many and varied branches of instruction—a relation which unites them so closely that the human mind grasps and appreciates them when presented together more naturally than when it tries to get them separately and disjointedly; and this also must be true for all time and all individuals. It is upon these and other uniform certainties that a science of education may be built, and there is no necessity to attempt to include within it all the uncertainties over which there seems to have been some worriment.

III. The Art of Teaching.—When the teacher has become familiar with those general principles which must be observed in all the work of education, he is led to investigate the order and method in each of the various branches of instruction found in the schoolroom, to the end that he may present each one to the child-mind in a manner befitting its peculiar nature. From this study it will be found that the child acquires a knowledge of language and the use of it in a somewhat different way from that in which he masters the subject-matter of arithmetic and is able to use it as required. The apprentice teacher must come to understand and appreciate that the operation of the mind is not the same in gaining each and every subject which she uses in the schoolroom for its development; and this is often a great revelation to the novice, who little suspects that there is such diversity in things pedagogical. In this connection the student is made acquainted with those forms and devices for teaching each subject which best illustrate the psychological principles that have already been agreed upon. This work has been given the name of "special methods," because it deals minutely with the principles of teaching each particular subject, and suggests also in some measure the mechanics that has been found adapted to each subject; and it is this latter kind of work that has brought more or less disrepute upon the normal school. But when a teacher is required to continue with this phase of his work until he is thoroughly able to comprehend that all devices and forms of teaching are but efforts of individuals to best illustrate the underlying principles, and when he is expected to work out a system of devices for himself before he leaves the school, then there is little danger of his falling into mechanical habits that will interfere with that spontaneity which is all-essential in spirited teaching. The normal school does not now emphasize the mechanical side of teaching as much as it did when the knowledge of psychology was so meager that pupil teachers could not hope to be investigators of the principles which underlie educational method, but must be content to be imitators of those who had made researches, and embodied these in an art which necessarily exhibited much of their own individuality. Every trained teacher is required in these times to study the mind of the child; and he is led to see that the whole realm of methods and devices must be built upon the laws of mental growth, and everything that has not this scientific basis is worthless and even injurious.

As a necessary part of this work in the art of teaching there is provision made in the normal school whereby theory may be illustrated in actual practice in the model, or practice, school. It is the aim in this school to show the application of principles and the proper use of devices by an abundance of illustrative teaching of such character that the apprentice may well emulate it in all respects. It has become a familiar truth that it is with teaching as with other callings in life—that in order to become able most speedily to do creditable work the candidate should have his attention specially directed to those qualities and accomplishments which mark successful teaching, because he will not, in all probability, appreciate them unless they are thus pointed out to him. It can not be too strongly emphasized that object lessons in successful teaching are as important and exemplify the same pedagogical doctrine as is the case in other departments of educational work. In this illustrative teaching the apprentice is required to analyze carefully and fully all the lessons which he observes, not only from the point of view of the essential principles underlying them, but he must take into account also the surrounding and accompanying conditions which materially affect the lesson favorably or unfavorably. Every student is trained to see and appreciate pedagogical problems, and he is expected to become able to point out an intelligent and practical way for their solution. The practice department of the normal school usually illustrates a thoroughly graded and classified school from the kindergarten to the high school, and is designed to embody three phases of actual teaching: In the first place, as has been said, pupil teachers are expected to witness model teaching that exemplifies the very best psychological principles in order that they may have the very best ideals set before them. Second, every pupil teacher is required to teach for a certain length of time in this practice department under skilled criticism. The critic teacher, who is usually an experienced and competent person, is careful to point out the defects which the student displays in his practice work, and to give him explicit directions how to overcome them, always aiding him in every way possible to apply readily and efficiently the principles he has gained in his theoretical work. In the third place, there is usually a spirit of investigation found in these practice schools, seeking constantly to improve upon the methods of teaching which may be in vogue at any time; and, as a general thing, freedom is permitted the apprentice to work out original methods, provided these seem to be in harmony with the fundamental principles of teaching. It is not too much to say that it is the aim always to inculcate among pupil teachers that broad, wholesome spirit that will look upon the teaching profession as a high and honorable one, where more worthy motives should prevail than those of mercenary gain or social preferment.

IV. The History of Education.—In order that a teacher shall thoroughly understand and appreciate what is being done pedagogically in these times it is necessary that he be led to see how the present state of things has been brought about, in order that he may put himself in line with the ascending tide in educational practice. The history of education, as a record of the development of educational ideas and practices, showing the transition from a period of unpedagogical and unpsychological procedure to one with more humane and intelligent methods, is as stimulative and beneficial a study as a teacher can undertake. The aim generally kept in mind is to trace the process of developing pedagogical ideas with the end in view to see that there is and has been a constant evolution along several distinct lines of educational practice, and that we are at present in a stage of that evolution process which seems in no wise to be near completion. The apprentice is led to appreciate that there has been in educational history much the same awakening to the consciousness that there is a teaching science, determined by invariable laws of mind growth and development, as is experienced by the ordinary teacher who has come to look at her work from a psychological rather than an academic standpoint. An effort is made to have the student trace the growth of progressive ideas through the different ages and combine this knowledge into one organic whole; instead of becoming possessed of a chaos of unrelated facts which may give general information, but can not be organized to afford intelligent direction to the efforts of the student who tries to meet the problems which confront him continually in his work. Surely there can be no broader study for the prospective teacher than to examine critically the great systems of pedagogical doctrine out of which our own has grown; such, for example, as those elaborated by Comenius, Rousseau, Basedow, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Herbart, Spencer, Mann, and others, and to profit by the successes and failures of these systems so far as they have been tried, and also to gain inspiration and courage from their exponents.

This in brief is what the normal school attempts to do for the professional betterment of those who seek its privileges. That there is great opportunity yet for growth every one admits; but no one who is in touch with the normal school will doubt that it is moving forward as rapidly as the law of growth of such an institution, conditioned as it is by the development of the school system as a whole of which it is a part, will admit; and that it is now filling a great mission (even with all its imperfections on its head) in improving the present condition of our schools, and pointing to higher and better things in the future, is amply shown on every side by the results of its efforts.