Hettie Steward, in my novel Angel of Mercy, is not the only woman in her family to have a profession. Her mother blazed the trail, becoming a professional teacher.
Hettie’s mother attended the Toronto Normal School in the 1880s.
What is a “normal school”? It is what today we call a teaching college. The purpose of these schools was to teach norms, standardized teaching practices.
Several were established in Canada and the United States in the 19th century and continued to operate until the mid-20th century. At that time, in Canada, teaching colleges were absorbed into universities while in the U.S., they became independent universities. Many state universities have roots as normal schools.
The Toronto Normal School
By the time Hettie’s mother Lucretia would have attended the school, it was about 35 years old. It was in its second location, a campus known as St. James Square, occupying eight acres bordered by Gerrard, Church, Gould and Victoria Streets.
The school went through several name changes, before becoming the Toronto Normal School in 1875. It was the oldest school in the province of Ontario.
By the 1880s, the campus was being used for purposes other than the teaching school. The property also held a natural history and art museum, a botanical garden, the headquarters for the Ontario Department of Education and an art school. By 1900, the museum also contained collections from the Canadian Institute. The building grew and changed with each addition.
After kindergartens were established in Ontario in 1882, the school became known for having an excellent kindergarten program.
The Student Experience
To be accepted into the school, students needed one year of teaching experience, a session at a model school and an academic second-class certificate. In the 20th century, students could be admitted who had completed high school or who had attended university.
The school year ran from September to June. Students were sent to schools throughout the city and surrounding areas for practice. This was especially important since the school was increasingly admitting students with no prior teaching experience.
Students were expected to be disciplined and kept busy in order to stay out of mischief.
Initially, lectures were held in front of large classes. By World War One, students attended classes based on their year of study. The emphasis changed from teaching procedures to teaching principles and how to apply them.
The normal school is no longer in existence. The teaching program was moved to a university in the mid-20th century, and the campus at St. James Square was razed.
Did you get a teaching degree? What was your experience like? Leave a comment below.
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