Skip to main content

Normal Schools: Teaching the Teachers

Normal Schools: Teaching the Teachers


Need for Professionalism. In most rural areas it was common for teachers to board around, living for a week or more in the homes of each of the children enrolled at their schools. Connecticut in 1846 reported that 84 percent of the states teachers boarded around. Not surprisingly the practice of boarding around was not conducive to maintaining a stable teaching force as few but young, single, and inexperienced teachers were willing to accept the constant packing and moving. Such men (few women taught in the early nineteenth century) could perhaps provide basic instruction in the three Rs of reading, writing, and arithmetic, but with the general extension of public education and the expansion of school curricula to include more subjects teachers themselves needed to have more education to do their jobs. To address the problems of transient teachers and unqualified instructors, reformers called for the overhaul of the inadequate and ad hoc manner in which most teachers were trained. Horace Mann, Emma Hart Willard, Henry Barnard, and others proposed the establishment of institutions to meet the demand for a well-trained and stable teaching force.

Normal Schools. To offer the kind of professional training considered crucial for teachers, reformers promoted the normal school. The name, derived from the Latin word norm, meaning rule, describes an institution dedicated to instruction in the rules of learning and teaching. As early as 1824 James G. Carter, a prominent Massachusetts school reformer, had introduced the idea of formal teacher preparation. Carter, Mann, and others hoped to improve teaching through the establishment of state normal schools that would teach the art of teaching, school management, and the proper virtues as well as offer opportunities for supervised and practice teaching. For Mann and others the creation of normal schools was an integral part of the larger common-school crusade. Mann himself considered them as a new instrument of progress for the improvement of the human race. As in other areas of school reform, Massachusetts led the way in developing normal schools. On 3 July 1838 the first state normal school opened in Lexington. During the 1840s and 1850s normal schools came into existence in various parts of the Northeast and West. By 1860 there were twelve such schools in the nation. The development of these teaching institutions marked the beginning of the study of pedagogy and the investigation of various methods of instruction and learning processes.

Character and Morality. In the cloistered atmosphere of the normal schools, young women, who increasingly came to dominate the profession of public school teaching, learned more than to master the subjects that they would later teach. Instructors placed so much emphasis on elevating the moral character of the future teacher that many normal schools resembled religious revivals. The prevailing image of the teacher in contemporary professional literature was that of a missionary completely committed to her duty of spreading morality and knowledge to children. This focus on the teaching of moral character was in keeping with dominant social attitudes about women, whose proper role as mother or teacher was to nurture moral character in the family or school. Women (as mothers or teachers) were to help build upstanding American citizens who obeyed the rules. The purpose of the emerging normal schools was to train young women to fulfill this maternal mission consistently and professionally.


Frederick M. Binder, The Age of the Common School (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1974);

Cyrus Pierce, The First State Normal School in America (New York: Arno, 1969);

Joel Spring, The American School, 16421985 (New York: Longman, 1986).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Normal Schools: Teaching the Teachers." American Eras. . 18 Apr. 2019 <>.

"Normal Schools: Teaching the Teachers." American Eras. . (April 18, 2019).

"Normal Schools: Teaching the Teachers." American Eras. . Retrieved April 18, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.