December 01, 2010

Not-So-Normal Schooling

Have you ever heard of a Normal School? That's Normal with a capital N—not normal as in everyday or run-of-the-mill. I first encountered this terminology when I began researching 19th century teaching colleges. In the American West, teachers were often little more than former students who had completed the 8th grade and gone on to pass a teacher's examination. However, Adelaide, my heroine in Head in the Clouds, needed to be more than an ordinary teacher. She needed to have the education and qualifications that would impress a starchy English nobleman. Since she spent her teen years in the East, I started investigating college possibilities.
In the early 1800s, schoolmasters were men. They ruled their classrooms with discipline and authority. Yet in the 1830s when tax-supported common schools made education more widely available, the result was a teacher shortage that left the door open for women.
"God seems to have made woman peculiarly suited to guide and develop the infant mind, and it seems...very poor policy to pay a man 20 or 22 dollars a month, for teaching children the ABCs, when a female could do the work more successfully at one third of the price." -- Littleton School Committee, Littleton, Massachusetts, 1849
By the time of the Civil War, women dominated the teaching field. However, if a woman wanted to set herself apart, to establish herself as a professional, she required training that went beyond the rudimentary grammar schooling of her peers. She needed a diploma from a reputable Normal School.
Normal Schools were two-year academies designed to grant teachers a mastery of the subjects taught in the common schools as well as giving them a practical knowledge of teaching methodology. Normal Schools prided themselves on their thorough, cohesive, and "scientific" curriculum. They would provide a norm for all teachers (hence the term Normal School) that would assure a level of quality generally unavailable previously.
While living in Boston with her aunt, Adelaide attended the Boston Normal School, which had been established as a separate institution from the Girl's High School in 1872. According to a regulation manual published in 1888, her courses would have included the following:
·         Mental and Moral Science and Logic
·         Physiology and Hygiene
·         Natural Science
·         Study of Language
·         Elementary Studies
·         Principles of Education, School Economy, and Methods of Instruction
·         Vocal Music, Drawing, and Blackboard Illustration
·         Observation and Practice in the Training School
·         Observation and Practice in other public schools
Not so very different from our current teacher education programs, is it?
So who were some teachers that made an impact in your life? Leave a comment for a chance to win an autographed copy of Head in the Clouds.

When a recovering romantic goes to work for a handsome ranch owner, her heart’s not the only thing in danger.
Adelaide Proctor is a young woman with her head in the clouds, longing for a real-life storybook hero to claim as her own. But when a husband-hunting debacle leaves her humiliated, she interviews for a staid governess position on a central Texas sheep ranch and vows to leave her romantic yearnings behind.
When Gideon Westcott left his privileged life in England to make a name for himself in America's wool industry, he never expected to become a father overnight. And five-year-old Isabella hasn't uttered a word since she lost her mother. The unconventionality of the new governess concerns Gideon--and intrigues him at the same time. But he can't afford distractions. He has a ranch to run, a shearing to oversee, and a suspicious fence-cutting to investigate.
When Isabella's uncle comes to claim the child--and her inheritance--Gideon and Adelaide must work together to protect Isabella from the man's evil schemes. And soon neither can deny their growing attraction. But after so many heartbreaks, will Adelaide be willing to get her head out of the clouds and put her heart on the line?

Karen Witemeyer writes historical romance novels for Bethany House and thanks the Lord for the compassionate, fun-loving, and inspirational teachers she's had along her journey who encouraged her to strive for excellence and follow her dreams. And with three children in the public school system, she continues to appreciate all the hard work and passion these professionals pour into their students. Thank you teachers!

16 comments:

Keli Gwyn said...

What interesting information, Karen. Thanks for sharing your research in this area. I just learned some valuable lessons.

I'm currently reading and enjoying Head in the Cloud. You're a great storyteller.

Karen Witemeyer said...

Hi, Keli. So glad you are enjoying Adelaide and Gideon's story! Researching can be time consuming, but it is so fun to uncover information gems that enrich the characters and plot. Thanks for stopping by today!

Michelle L. Hamilton said...

Teachers do leave an important mark in our lives! I am in grad school at San Diego State working on my master's and history and my graduate adviser/mentor Dr. Blum has helped guide me to where I am today.

Kaitlin said...

As an elementary education major (almost graduated!), I can attest to how important teachers are! I actually attend Illinois State University (originally Illinois State Normal University, the first public university in Illinois) which is located in the town of Normal, named after the University! As many people say, ISU is as close to "Normal" as you can get!

Chantal said...

Thanks for the great information! This will help me in my own historical novel. :)

I had several teachers impacting my life, but I'll always remember my Chemistry teacher from high school. He was just so cool and knowledgeable and always there for you.

Karen Witemeyer said...

Michelle and Chantal - Thanks for sharing about the teachers that made an impact in your life.

I will never forget my third grade teacher, Mrs. Jones. She made me feel special instead of odd. An important distinction for an 8 year-old struggling to fit in at a new school. Thanks, Mrs. Jones!

Karen Witemeyer said...

Kailin - how fun to have a history of "Normal" in your university, even if it is just based on the town name. Too fun! I wish you all the best as you pursue the noble profession of teaching. I know you will impact many young lives.

jtwebster books said...

Thank you for the fascinating history. I found it particularly interesting because in New Zealand, schools who accommodate student teachers for practical sessions are called Normal schools. I wonder if they borrowed this term from your country.

As for teachers who made an impact, my sixth form (Grade 11) English teacher - Miss McTavish opened my eyes to the classics and Shakespeare.

Maureen said...

Great interview....My MIL went to Normal School. I remember times being with her and people would stop her and tell her she was the best teacher they had ever had. When I saw the HS classes she had...she was more than qualified when she graduated.
Thank you

Karen Witemeyer said...

jtwebster - How fun to learn that Normal schools are still alive and well in New Zealand! And thanks for sharing about your literature teacher. I fell in love with Jane Eyre in high school and my heroine, Adelaide, in Head in the Clouds shares that passion. In fact, some of her own story mimics certan aspects of Jane's. We can learn a lot from those classics.

Karen Witemeyer said...

Maureen - How fun to hear that your MIL attended a Normal school, and what a fabulous tribute to have her students return and honor her so richly. A true testimony to the teacher she must have been!

Deana said...

Karen, such cool history to know. Thanks for all the research that you do. I really enjoyed Head in the Clouds, btw. ;0)

Karen Witemeyer said...

Thanks, Deana. The research really is a fun part of the writing process.

I'm so glad you enjoyed Adelaide and Gideon's story! They were fun characters to work with. :-)

Martha A. said...

I wish they had those types of schools now!!!
martha(at)lclink(dot)com

Sharon said...

Hi Karen,
I enjoyed reading about Normal School. I always wondered why the term Normal was mentioned sometimes when reading a historical book. I think one of my favorite teachers was my English teacher, Mrs. New, in tenth grade. I look forward to reading your book!

Karen Witemeyer said...

Martha - Thanks for stopping by!

Sharon - Those high school English teachers make a huge difference, don't they? That's where my love of literature started.

I've entered you both in the drawing!