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 after attending 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 normal schools were established in Canada and the United States in the 19th century and continued to operate until the mid-20th century. In Canada, teaching colleges were absorbed into universities while in the United States they became independent universities. Many state universities have their roots as normal schools.
The Toronto Normal School
When Hettie’s mother would have been attending the school, it was about 35 years old. Its campus, St. James Square, was its second location, and occupied 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 had others purposes as well. 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.
Ontario established kindergartens in 1882. Toronto Normal School became known for its 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. Entrance requirements changed, and 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 I, 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 no longer exists. The teaching program was moved to a university in the mid-20th century, and the campus at St. James Square was razed.
Updated: 21 October 2020
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