The evolution of the teacher…
So what is the role of a teacher? The role of a teacher has certainly evolved over the years and now, perhaps more than ever, that role is in question? In the 15th Century a teacher helped children to read and write and of course to understand the bible. The upper class, mostly royals and those in living in monasteries, were privy to formal education. In the 17th century scientist and educator John Amos Comenius disseminated a reformed system of universal education that was widely used in Europe. Ivan Betskoy (an educational advisor to Catherine II) proposed to educate young Russians of both sexes in state boarding schools, aimed at creating "a new race of men". There was an increasing academic interest in education and the first attempts to create what might be considered academic rationales for teaching methods. This led, in the 1770s, to the establishment of the first chair of pedagogy at the University of Halle in Germany.
The first American schools in the thirteen original colonies opened in the 17th century. Boston Latin School was founded in 1635 and is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States. All the New England colonies required towns to set up schools, and many did so. In 1642 the Massachusetts Bay Colony made "proper" education compulsory; other New England colonies followed. The larger towns in New England opened grammar schools, the forerunner of the modern high school. The most famous was the Boston Latin School, which is still in operation as a public high school. Schools became part of the community
As formal education developed, so did the role of the teacher. The teacher was at the center of most formal education. Early schools were limited to one room and one teacher. That teacher was charged with supervising, educating, and disciplining the entire student body. Reading was taught from books like the bible and math was rudimentary and basic. In the 17th century, the schoolbooks were brought over from England. By 1690, Boston publishers were reprinting the English Protestant Tutor under the title of The New England Primer. The "blue backed speller" of Noah Webster was by far the most common textbook from the 1790s until 1836, when the McGuffey Readers appeared. Both series emphasized civic duty and morality, and sold tens of millions of copies nationwide.
Formal curriculum did not exist, and teaching was done according to what the town needed. The school system remained largely private and unorganized until the 1840s. Public schools were always under local control, with no federal role, and little state role. The 1840 census indicated that of the 3.68 million children between the ages of five and fifteen, about 55% attended primary schools and academies. Teaching young students was not perceived as an end goal for educated people.
Adults became teachers without any particular skill except sometimes in the topic they were teaching. The checking of credentials was left to the local school boards, who were mainly interested in the efficient use of limited taxes. This started to change with the introduction of two-year normal schools starting in 1823. By the end of the 19th century, most teachers of elementary schools were trained in this fashion. As education became more formal, so did the training of teachers. Teachers organized themselves during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1917, the National Education Association (NEA) was reorganized to better mobilize and represent teachers and educational staff.
During the 60’s teachers also assumed the role of disciplinarian. Tales of “the paddle” instilled fear into students, allowing teachers to better control their classroom. This image carried a lot of weight in the public’s perception as teachers were seen to have an important role in raising a child. The “portrayal” of teachers in movies was always an older man or woman with rimmed glasses and an ever present scowl and swinging a yard stick. “Corporal Punishment” was eventually banned and the image of the teacher would be changed forever.
The image of a teacher, and the power they once held, was lost. Now teaching was simply another career. The apathetic public now sees teachers as lazy, greedy, and covetous. The public’s perception is fueled by media reports of sexual encounters, “greedy” strikes, and demands for higher pay. The public thinks that teachers work short hours, have summers off, and do very little work. What the public does not see is the preparation time, the long hours grading papers and the developmental education.
If we do not change to the public’s perception of what a teacher is, teachers will continue to leave the profession in droves. While most teachers do not do it for the money, paying teachers appropriately will help. While money may help, regaining the public’s respect is the key. This can be accomplished in different ways.
First and foremost, we must remove ourselves from the front pages. We need to stop performing immoral acts with our students and regain the moral character of the profession. Second, we must work with the public and reinstall the community feel of our schools. Accentuate the positive; create webpages to show off the good that our schools are doing to. Invite the neighbors into our schools to show off the pride.
In the 18th Century, schools were seen as an important part of the community. It was where the children learned the skills needed to support the community. Nothing has changed. School is still where our children learn the skills needed to support the community. It has been placed on our shoulders, we as educators, are responsible for rebuilding the image. Let’s get to work!