Teacher Education

By: Alan W. Garrett

Type: General Entry

Published: February 1, 1996

Updated: August 31, 2021

The education of teachers for Texas schools has evolved greatly since the days of the republic and early statehood. Increased formal study, greater uniformity of preparation, and centralization of state authority have characterized this process, especially during the twentieth century. As early as 1823, the Mexican government proposed a plan for the competitive examination of teachers for public schools. This plan apparently did not translate into reality, for the government's failure to provide for public education was cited in the Texas Declaration of Independence as a reason for the independence movement. The Mexican plan for examination of prospective teachers, however, remained the basis for teacher certification for almost a century. Republic of Texas leaders found the establishment and staffing of a public school system no easier than had their Mexican predecessors. Few able teachers were drawn to the Texas frontier during the early nineteenth century, no matter whether the region was northern Mexico, an independent nation, or the western extreme of the United States. Texas leaders set about planning for the establishment of a public system and relegated the issue of teacher education to a later time. The logic of such a plan with no source of teachers other than immigration might be faulted. Yet, primary schools were necessary to provide a native source of future teachers. Texans relied on the inherited idea of examination to determine who taught.

Teacher certification based on examination was practical for selecting teachers in a region with little access to higher education. No prescribed course of study for prospective teachers existed. Individuals desiring to teach in public schools merely had to pass the requisite examination. The burden of preparation was placed solely on them. As early as 1839, the House Committee on Education issued a report proposing that the certification of teachers be based on an examination. The school law of 1840 required that the chief justice and associate justices of each county also sit as a board of school commissioners and examine the "moral and literary" qualifications of those desiring to teach in the county's schools. School subjects to be tested included "reading, writing, English grammar, arithmetic, and geography." Implicit in this plan was the notion that knowledge of a subject corresponded to an ability to teach that subject to others, a notion that remains popular despite continual evidence to the contrary. An 1858 school law required that prospective teachers be issued certificates by a three-member Board of Examiners appointed by each county court. Certificates issued by these boards were to state the "branches" the holder was qualified to teach. Examinations remained based solely on the subject matter to be taught. Hallmarks of Reconstruction education included strong centralization of all educational efforts and control by a state board composed of the superintendent of public instruction, governor, and attorney general. The superintendent of public instruction appointed thirty-five district supervisors, one for each of the state's judicial districts. These supervisors examined prospective teachers. State board control of teacher examination and appointment resulted in teachers becoming direct employees of the state government. Local school boards had the power neither to hire nor discharge teachers appointed to their schools. Democrats began to dismantle the hated "Radical school system" as soon as control of the state government returned to them. In 1873 the certification of teachers, based on a demonstrated knowledge of the content to be taught, was returned to the county level. As the state grew and schools became more differentiated from each other, a minimal degree of specialization began to enter the examination and certification process. The 1879 certification law established three classes of teaching certificate. The type of certificate issued was dictated by the breadth of the examination taken and determined the type of school in which the teacher could instruct. First-class certificates, the highest level issued under this law, required examination in "school discipline and methods of teaching" for the first time. State leaders thus acknowledged that learning in subject matter, though obviously necessary, was not sufficient for teaching. The best teachers had to have pedagogical expertise, as well (see EDUCATION FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS, SEGREGATIONand EDUCATION.

As Texas entered the twentieth century, the system of county examination and certification became cumbersome. Citizens, including teachers, became more mobile. A 1911 change in certification laws ended the county examination-certification process. All certificates were to be issued by the state superintendent and be valid throughout the state. By 1921 the examination process had ended and all teaching certificates were based on college work. This requirement of formal education was the culmination of a series of proposals and events that began in 1839, the same year the House Committee on Education urged that certification be based on examination. In a letter to President Mirabeau B. Lamar in 1839, Andrew J. Yates urged that each county elect a well-educated "visitor" to observe each academy every six months and to issue licenses to teach in the common schools. He also proposed that each academy establish a "department of instruction" that would offer pedagogical courses to students preparing to teach. Although Yates recognized the necessity of both formal academic education and methodological instruction, his goals were slow in being realized. In 1846 delegates to an education convention in Houston agreed that each college in the state should establish a department for teacher education. In antebellum Texas discussion of such departments grew. Newcomers to the state, especially those from the Northeast, urged the development of normal schools. Governor Hardin R. Runnels urged the legislature in 1858 to require that a normal school be established in connection with the proposed University of Texas, but his suggestion was disregarded. Continuing controversy about the need for teachers to study pedagogical methods, or about the proper balance between the pedagogy and traditional subject matter, retarded the normal-school movement in Texas, which was further delayed for about a decade during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Private normal schools began to proliferate in Texas during the 1870s. These proprietary institutions offered a level of work equal to or below that of most modern high schools. Their sole objective was the preparation of students for state certification examinations. Attention to teaching methodology was limited, since this area only appeared on the examination for first-class certificates after enactment of the 1879 school law. The dramatic increase in settlement to Texas after the Civil War, however, ensured that private normal schools could not train enough teachers to satisfy the burgeoning population. The state had to become involved in teacher education. Governor Richard Coke cited the need for "a sufficient number of educated and trained teachers" as the greatest problem facing Texas public education in 1874. Texas, still a relatively poor, agrarian state burdened by the costs of the Civil War, seemed unable to address the growing problem of teacher education. Fortunately, a change in philosophy of the administrators of the Peabody Fund provided Texas the assistance necessary to establish formal teacher education. This fund was instituted in 1867 by New England philanthropist George Peabody for the purpose of assisting the establishment of public schools in the states of the former Confederacy. After about a decade of this work, those in charge of the Peabody Fund concluded that normal schools, too, should be funded. An effective public school system could not be established without qualified teachers. To that end, the fund donated $6,000 toward the establishment of the first state-supported normal school in Texas, Sam Houston Normal Institute (later Sam Houston State University), which opened in 1879 at Huntsville. The legislature appropriated a similar amount for the initial expenses of Sam Houston Normal and an additional $6,000 to provide for the education of African-American teachers at Prairie View Institute (later Prairie View A&M University). These programs began operation before the development of teacher-preparation programs at any other state-supported institution of higher education. A total of at least seventy-six scholarships was to be provided annually to students statewide so that they might attend Sam Houston. By accepting these scholarships, students agreed to return to their home senatorial districts and teach for at least one year upon completing their studies. Applicants were expected to pass admission tests in spelling, reading, penmanship, arithmetic, geography, English composition, English grammar, and United States history. Students at Sam Houston took a two-year course of study that included a review of common-school studies, algebra, geometry, physiology, natural philosophy, chemistry, astronomy, rhetoric, composition, English literature, Latin, drawing, vocal music, and physical exercise. Also included were courses in pedagogy and the history and philosophy of education as well as observation and practice teaching at the institute's model school. The State Board of Education promulgated a rule certifying Sam Houston Normal graduates to teach statewide and exempting them from any further certification examinations. Texas had at last taken the first steps toward formal teacher education. Many of the problems of the past, however, remained. The vast majority of the state's teachers, no doubt, continued to opt for certification by examination and were often to be under-educated and ill-prepared for their duties.

As the state approached the twentieth century, another problem became apparent. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, high schools became much less rare, especially in the more urban areas, than they had been in the past. Common schools, too, became truly "commonplace," as immigrants from more established areas sought to replicate home as they knew it. These common schools and their districts needed administrators. Normal schools, regardless of their efficacy in preparing common-school teachers, lacked programs to educate school administrators and the more specialized high school teachers. The University of Texas therefore established a chair of pedagogy in 1891 and appointed Joseph Baldwin of Sam Houston Normal School to it. Baldwin's curriculum consisted of six courses related to all aspects of education, to be taken during the junior and senior years. Students of pedagogy were recognized by a special statement on their diplomas. Baldwin's program continued until early 1896, when it was disbanded by the University of Texas regents. William Seneca Sutton reestablished the School of Pedagogy in 1897 and sought to forge close relationships with the liberal arts departments. He viewed a firm grounding both in educational methodology and in the subjects to be taught as essential for teachers. In 1903 state superintendent Arthur Lefevre proposed that all University of Texas degrees, except medicine and law degrees, be considered equivalent to permanent teaching certificates. Sutton vehemently opposed the lowering of professional standards that surely would result from such an action. In the end he prevailed, and state leaders accepted that the education of teachers was a specialized undertaking. By 1910 the university required that all education students either show evidence of successful teaching experience or practice teach for twenty-seven weeks as a part of their program of study.

Not all students, however, especially those who already held teaching positions, were able to attend the university or complete the full program at Sam Houston. Beginning in 1881 and continuing for more than fifty years, summer normals provided an attractive educational option to many teachers and prospective teachers. These short courses in teacher education enrolled 7,000 to 10,000 students a year and were organized for the sole purpose of preparing individuals to take the state teacher-certification examinations. The University of Texas offered its first summer normal school in 1892. Beginning in 1893 the state superintendent had to approve the curricula of all summer normals. This marked an early effort at state specification of teacher-education programs. The late nineteenth century also saw acceptance of the idea that teacher education should be a career-long process. Accordingly, the first county teacher institute was held in 1872. County teacher institutes were organized so that all of the teachers in a school district, especially a rural one, would have opportunities to study new educational methods and improve their teaching. The institutes were usually conducted by the county superintendents. Each district, beginning in 1884, was required to hold an annual institute. Later, attendance for all teachers became mandatory. By the early 1900s the state superintendent began to issue suggested outlines of study for county teacher institutes, another move toward statewide uniformity in teacher education. The seeds of modern in-service education programs for teachers can be seen clearly in the county teacher institutes.

As Texas entered the twentieth century, only three state-supported institutions-the University of Texas, Sam Houston, and Prairie View-offered regular, formal, and extensive preparation for future teachers. These institutions could never hope to train enough teachers to meet the increasing demand. Thus, from 1901 until 1925, seven new normal schools or teachers' colleges, located at Denton, San Marcos, Canyon, Commerce, Alpine, Nacogdoches, and Kingsville, were organized for teacher education. These scattered schools functioned under a single board and maintained uniform entrance requirements. The normal school course was expanded to a four-year program; students took one of five curricula- agriculture, industrial arts, language, science, or primary and art. But despite their four-year programs, normal schools continued to offer studies, designed primarily for rural and elementary teachers, at a level below that provided by the university. Urbanization and the growth of the high school movement heralded a final series of transformations for the normal schools. In 1917 the Texas State Board of Normal Regents decided to convert all of the state's normal schools into colleges, with work at the junior level to be added in 1918 and work at the senior level to be added in 1919. In part, this move had been made possible by the work of previous graduates of normal schools and the proliferation of high schools throughout the state. More and better education in the public schools greatly reduced the need for much of the basic work and remediation previously offered by the normal schools. The conversion of normal schools to teachers' colleges (and subsequently to state colleges, then to state universities) also marked the apparent end of certification by examination. The 1921 certification law decreed that all future certificates were to be based on college studies. A variety of levels of certificates still remained, the lowest requiring only thirty hours of college work and the highest requiring a bachelor's degree with twenty-four hours of education coursework that included practice teaching. Subject matter knowledge sufficient to pass a written examination no longer was considered sufficient to become a teacher in Texas schools.

The Gilmer-Aikin laws of 1949, remembered primarily for their effects on school funding, led many teachers and prospective teachers to seek formal education beyond the minimum required for state certification. One provision of these laws established graduated pay for teachers based on education. Many teachers returned to college for additional coursework, and prospective teachers began to recognize the bachelor's degree as the minimal requirement for the teaching profession. In 1955 all teacher certification became legally based on the minimum of a bachelor's degree and the completion of a state-approved teacher-education program. During the next thirty years, the 1955 standards were refined and expanded. Additional certifications, based on graduate study, were established for an increasing number of specialty areas that came to be represented in the schools. Nationwide school reform during the 1980s influenced Texas teacher education in several ways, including reintroduction of the previously abandoned concept of examination as a part of the certification process. Critics contended that many students in teacher-education programs focused too heavily on pedagogy at the expense of both a broad-based liberal education and the ability to learn enough about one or more specific subjects for effective teaching. The Texas Education Agency's 1987 Standards for Teacher Education stated that "The best preparation for teaching is a high quality, well-rounded education that includes a grasp of the humanities, the natural and social sciences, mathematics and fine arts." The Standards required teacher-education programs to provide students foundations in three areas-general education, one or more teaching specialties, and professional studies. Prospective teachers must now meet minimum semester-hour requirements or demonstrate appropriate competency in English, speech, American history, political science, mathematics, computing and information technology, and the fine arts. Additionally, they must complete a total of at least sixty semester hours from those areas and foreign languages. In other words, virtually half of the baccalaureate program is dedicated to the goal of gaining a well-rounded, liberal education. Students have a variety of options for fulfilling their teaching-specialty requirement. Generally, programs for elementary teachers require fewer semester hours and fewer upper-division hours in academic specialties than do programs for preparing secondary teachers. Professional development courses are limited to eighteen semester hours that include the study of teaching and learning processes, human growth and development, the needs of special learners, legal and ethical aspects of teaching, educational technologies, curriculum, classroom management, and the structure, organization, and management of the American school system. Prospective teachers also must complete (as a part of the eighteen-hour program) a pre-student-teaching field course of at least forty-five clock hours, followed by student teaching (all day for ten weeks).

The 1987 Standards thus responded to the popular perception that teachers focused too heavily on "education" while tending to ignore "academics," a response reminiscent of the nineteenth-century conception that passing a written examination indicated ability to teach. Indeed, certification examinations returned to Texas in the 1980s. Upon completion of an approved teacher-education program, individuals must also pass written examinations in each of their teaching fields and an examination addressing topics related to professional development. After initial certification, based on college study and written examination, teachers may become certified in any additional teaching fields by passing examinations. Whether state leaders will attempt further to emphasize traditional subject matter at the expense of pedagogical studies remains to be seen, as does the eventual role of certification examinations. See also GOVERNMENT, HIGHER EDUCATION, STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION.

Frederick Eby, The Development of Education in Texas (New York: Macmillan, 1925). Frederick Eby, Education in Texas: Source Materials (Austin: University of Texas, 1918). Charles W. Funkhouser and John N. Bruscemi, eds., Perspectives on Schooling for Texas Educators (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1981). Rae Files Still, The Gilmer-Aikin Bills (Austin: Steck, 1950). Donald W. Whisenhunt, ed., Texas: A Sesquicentennial Celebration (Austin: Eakin Press, 1984). Donna Lee Younker, Teacher Education in Texas, 1879–1919 (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1964).

  • Education
  • Education Disciplines

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Alan W. Garrett, “Teacher Education,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 14, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/teacher-education.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1996
August 31, 2021