Teacher education

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Teacher and student in 1941, Massachusetts

Teacher education refers to the policies and procedures designed to equip teachers with the knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and skills they require to perform their tasks effectively in the school and classroom. In early times, teachers were often scholars or clergymen who had no formal training in how to teach the subjects of their expertise. In fact, many believed that "teachers were born, not made." It was not until the emergence of pedagogy, the "art and science of teaching," as an accepted discipline that the training of teachers was considered important.

Although there has been continued debate about whether teaching is a "science" that can be taught or whether one is "born" to be a teacher, it has generally been agreed, at least since the nineteenth century, that certain characteristics are needed to qualify a person as a teacher: knowledge of the subject matter to be taught, knowledge of teaching methods, and practical experience in applying both. Most educational programs for teachers today focus upon these points. However, the internal character of the individual is also an important aspect of teaching; whether that is something one is born with or can be taught, and what are the qualities that are needed for the role of teacher, is also a matter of debate.


A primary school teacher in northern Laos

In education, teachers facilitate student learning. The objective is typically accomplished through either an informal or formal approach to learning, including a course of study and lesson plan that teaches skills, knowledge, and/or thinking skills. When deciding what teaching method to use teachers consider students' background knowledge, environment, and their learning goals as well as standardized curricula as determined by the relevant authority.

A teacher may interact with students of different ages, from infants to adults, students with different abilities, including gifted students and students with learning disabilities. Hence, teaching is a complex job, which is why prospective educators are mandated to have degrees in general education, subject specific education, and/or specialized education; many countries also require teachers to be licensed. Beyond legislative dictum, a person must be rigorously trained and educated in methods and skills that eventually make him or her an effective teacher.


The debate over the most effective teaching methods and the history of teachers' education are closely intertwined as teacher education began from the belief that training potential teachers was the best way to create effective educators. Before a systematic method of educating teachers was created, many teachers used didactic methods; lectures, memorization, and the testing of a student's knowledge retention were fundamental aspects of education for thousands of years.[1] While this method was effective in producing many brilliant scholars, it did not take into account different methods of learning nor was it easily adaptable to differing cultural and societal situations.

In the early sixteenth century, the pedagogy movement, started to change to way education was believed delivered to pupils. Such educational innovators as the Jesuits, Comenius, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau helped to develop educational models that were more practical, adaptable, and more student-perspective based.

While the pedagogy movement was helping to re-shape how teachers taught, educating teachers started to become a formalized movement around 1684, when Saint John-Baptiste de la Salle, founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools and an educational reformer, established what is generally considered the first teacher's educational school in Reims, France.[2] This was an institution in which young men were trained in the principles and practices of a new method of teaching, adaptable to the youth in every country.

This French concept of an "école normale" was to provide a model school with model classrooms to teach standard teaching practices to its student teachers.[3] The children, the teachers of the children, the student teachers, and the teachers of the students were all housed together in the same building.

Normal schools, as they were starting to be called in this time, spread throughout Europe. In the early 1700s August Hermann Francke organized a teachers' class at Halle to train the teachers for his orphans who received education in what came to be known as the Franckesche Stiftungen. A student of Francke, Johann Julius Hecker, opened the first school for the training of teachers in Berlin in 1748.[4]

The first normal schools in the United States were started in New England in the 1820s as private institutions, and then as publicly funded institutions thanks largely to the efforts of education reformers Horace Mann and James G. Carter.[5] Influenced by similar academies in Prussia and elsewhere in Europe, these normal schools were intended to improve the quality of the growing common school system by producing more qualified teachers. Their success, and the conviction of Horace Mann that colleges had not and would not provide sufficient competent teachers, led to the establishment of similar schools throughout the country.

By the late nineteenth century, almost every country had some form of a normal school, as the desire to have trained and effective teachers in public and private schools had spread far and wide. During the first half of the twentieth century, teacher specialization became a frequent occurrence: as Special education became more frequent in schools, (and eventually mandated by law in many countries), potential teachers started to learn methods to help effectively educate students with mental, physical, and emotional handicaps whose special needs had been largely ignored for many years; the emergence of Physical education as a career path; the distinctions among the arts for potential educators (in most schools Fine arts, Music, and Drama are all distinct subjects taught by teachers who specialize in one of the areas); and the development of education administrators, and college degree paths for such a field, have all diversified the education of new teachers.

Educational structure

Teachers College, (Columbia University) view down West 120th Street, New York City.

Nearly every country in the world now has institutes of higher education that are responsible for the education and training of potential teachers. These institutes can be schools entirely devoted to the education of teachers or colleges/departments of education of a larger university. In most countries they are autonomous and allowed to develop their own curriculum for educating teachers, while meeting legislative requirements for teacher's eventual license. In some countries, for example China, the teacher training schools are state run and therefore all programs of study are approved by the government. Depending on numerous sociological factors, every country has different standards by which teachers are educated. However, most countries follow the same career path for potential teachers:

  • Initial teacher training / education (a pre-service course before entering the classroom as a fully responsible teacher);
  • Induction (the process of providing training and support during the first few years of teaching or the first year in a particular school);
  • Teacher development or continuing professional development (CPD) (an in-service process for practicing teachers).

The educational pathway for prospective teachers is varied. Students can earn an undergraduate degree in a specific subject and then go back to school to earn a Master's level degree in education; some students are able to do the opposite, receive an undergraduate degree in education and an advanced degree in a specific subject matter. Some countries require students to have only a single degree in content area and then receive a certificate degree in teaching, while others mandate two degrees for future educators.


The question of which knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and skills teachers should possess is the subject of much debate in many cultures. Generally, teachers are educated in certain core areas, each of which can and often are augmented by regional, cultural, societal, and even religious perspectives:

  • Foundational knowledge and skills
  • Content-area and methods knowledge
  • Practice at classroom teaching or at some other form of educational practice

Foundational knowledge and skills

Usually this area is meant to give an understanding to the principles and methodology of education in general. Students are often taught about the philosophy, history, psychology, and sociology of education.

Philosophy of education helps to give future educators a sense of the purpose, nature, and ideal content of education, particularly in regards to knowledge itself, the nature of the knowing mind and the human subject, problems of authority, and the relationship between education and society, while the history of education gives an overview of how these factors have played an influence on the methods of teaching in the past, and where modern theories derive from in contemporary time. Educational psychology informs future teachers about the fundamentals of how human beings learn in educational settings, the effectiveness of educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and the social psychology of schools as organizations. Educational psychology as a whole is concerned with the processes of educational attainment in the general population and in sub-populations such as gifted children and those with specific learning disabilities, and gives future teachers a sense of the varying psychological aspects associated with their profession. The sociology of education prepares future teachers for the larger sociological dynamics that teachers and education in general plays in the community and world, including addressing issues such as how the educational needs of individuals and marginalized groups may be at odds with existing social processes.

Content area

For most Primary education teachers, a generalized understanding of core subjects, such as Language, Mathematics, Geography, History, and Science is taught since primary educators often provide the foundational work of these and many other subjects for their students. It is often teachers of Secondary education that study specific subjects more intensively, such as Biology, a particular foreign language, or a specific level of a subject so as to be able to teach a particular age-group or grade. Usually secondary educators attain a knowledge base and scope of understanding of their focus of understanding beyond the level they will be teaching, so that they can adjust and maneuver within the subject according the needs and abilities of the students they are teaching.

Both primary and secondary educators also learn effective methods of teaching particular subjects; while this type of training for a secondary educational teacher may be limited to their subject (an Algebra teacher will learn methods of how to teach algebra effectively), primary educators often must learn effective methods of teaching generalized subjects (for example methods to effectively teach Mathematics in third grade).

Physical education and Art teachers face a different sort of challenge, as their subjects are less intellectual and based more upon helping the student discover their own abilities. A physical education teacher can teach a student the rules of baseball, which is important knowledge that both teacher and student must have to play the game correctly, but cannot actually teach the ability to hit a home run. Likewise, an art teacher can discuss and show students how to paint, can give them methods to practice and give effective and constructive criticism, but ultimately it is up to the student how far they are able to take their artistic abilities. Such student-ability based subjects require additional training in methods that facilitate students in achieving their potential in these areas.

Practice at classroom teaching

Real life experience in classrooms and teaching has been shown to be an effective tool in educating and preparing future teachers. This core area reflects the organization of most teacher education programs in North America (though not necessarily elsewhere in the world). This form of education can include field observations, which is usually observation and limited participation within a classroom under the supervision of the classroom teacher, student teaching for a number of weeks in an assigned classroom under the supervision of the classroom teacher and a supervisor (such as from the university), and/or an internship where a teaching candidate is supervised within his or her own classroom. The benefits of such experiences while still a teaching student at a college or university is that future educators gain first hand knowledge of what it is like to be a teacher, experience the interactions of student and teacher, the social, emotional, and psychological dynamics of a classroom and a framework for which to apply theoretical and methodological knowledge learned while training to become a teacher.

Contemporary issues and challenges

The rapid changes in society during the latter half of the twentieth century led to teachers facing new and complex issues, resulting in changes in the area of teacher education. One of the most significant development was the creation of Special education for children with special needs. For Special education teachers, learning how to effectively convey subject content is as important as learning this information. Special education teachers must be taught how information, especially more advanced and complex subject material, can be effectively taught to students in non-traditional ways. Special education teachers also often are required to study additional aspects of psychology and sociology.

Gifted education is a different type of special needs education. This involves special practices, procedures, and theories used in the education of children who have been identified as gifted or talented. There is no standard global definition of a gifted student, nor agreement on whether they should be singled out for special treatment. The appropriateness of forms of gifted education has been hotly debated. Some people believe that gifted education resources lack availability and flexibility. They feel that in the alternate methods of gifted education, the gifted students "miss out" on having a "normal" childhood, at least insofar as "normal childhood" is defined as attending school in a mixed-ability classroom. Others believe that gifted education allows gifted students to interact with peers that are on their level, be adequately challenged, and leaves them better equipped to take on the challenges of life. Although gifted education programs are not mandated, gifted education teachers are in demand for those that do exist.

Advances in technology have also posed an issue for future educators. Many educators have focused on ways to incorporate technology into the classroom. Television, computers, radio, and other forms of mass media are being utilized in an educational context, often in an attempt to involve the student actively in their own education. Hence, many teacher education programs now include courses both in technology operation and how to use technology for education purposes. With the advent of distance learning utilizing mobile technologies and the internet understanding of technology has become crucial for new teachers in order to keep up with the knowledge and interests of their students in these delivery systems.

Population increase has created an ever increasing demand for new teacher, while poverty, political instability, and other major issues have hindered governments around the world from meeting new educational demands. In some parts of the world, programs have been initiated to draw new talent into teacher educational programs. In the U.S., many states offer tuition remission programs to students who promise to teach in high needs districts for a specified time frame after graduation. In other areas of the world where national governments lack the resources to offer such initiatives, the United Nations has stepped in. The UN's Millennium Development Project has eight established goals, one of which is to develop universal primary education in every country by the year 2015.[6] Central Asia, Africa and Latin America are all target areas for this initiative. In order to help achieve this end, the UN has devoted resources and funds to helping improve educational infrastructure and to training more new teachers in targeted areas.


  1. Michael J. Dunkin, "Teacher Education: Historical Overview," Encyclopedia of Education (The Gale Group, Inc, 2002). Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  2. M. Graham, "St. John Baptist de la Salle," The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York, NY: Robert Appleton Company, 1910). Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  3. Anne T. Quartararo, Women Teachers and Popular Education in Nineteenth-Century France: Social Values and Corporate Identity at the Normal School Institution (University of Delaware Press, 1995, ISBN 0874135451).
  4. The New York Times, The First Normal School: Early Efforts to Secure Training for Teachers. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  5. Charles Athiel Harper, A Century of Public Teacher Education: The Story of the State Teachers Colleges as they Evolved from the Normal Schools (Greenwood Press, 1970, ISBN 0837139392).
  6. United Nations Millennium Development Goals, Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education. Retrieved November 24, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cochran-Smith, Marilyn. Handbook of Research on Teacher Education: Enduring Questions and Changing Contexts. Routledge, 2008. ISBN 0805847766
  • Cochran-Smith, Marilyn, and Kenneth M. Zeichner. Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005. ISBN 0805855939.
  • Dunkin, Michael J. Teacher Education: Historical Overview. Encyclopedia of Education. The Gale Group, Inc, 2002. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  • Graham, M. St. John Baptist de la Salle. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. Retrieved September 15, 2008.
  • Harper, Charles Athiel. A Century of Public Teacher Education: The Story of the State Teachers Colleges as they Evolved from the Normal Schools. Greenwood Press, 1970. ISBN 0837139392.
  • Loughran, John. Developing A Pedagogy of Teacher Education: Understanding Teaching and Learning About Teaching. Routledge, 2005. ISBN 0415367271.
  • Quartararo, Anne T. Women Teachers and Popular Education in Nineteenth-Century France: Social Values and Corporate Identity at the Normal School Institution. University of Delaware Press, 1995. ISBN 0874135451.
  • Tisher, R. P., and Marvin Wideen. Research in Teacher Education: International Perspectives. Taylor & Francis, 1990. ISBN 1850007829.

External links

All links retrieved February 26, 2023.


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