The art of becoming a teacher: Lessons from 1892

See all posts
When packing up my frail mother's belongings last spring, I came across a surprising treasure: an old hard-bound school book entitled Dundas Vale Training College, 1892.  It was written entirely in my Scottish great-grandmother's hand, the same great-grandmother after whom my mother named a school she started many decades later.

The first thing that struck me about it is the impeccable cursive, the demise of which can be easily traced by comparing my great-grandmother's handwriting to my mother's neat but hardly elegant script, followed by my own sloppy handwriting, ending up with what can barely be classified as handwriting -- more like chicken scratches -- that my own grown children produce (very rarely).

My great-grandmother wrote this book in the course of her teacher training in Glasgow, Scotland.  I guess that the best modern parallel for it would be the portfolios that many teacher candidates now produce as an exit requirement for their preparation program. Each section of the book dealt with various subjects that she would one day have to teach and how best to teach them.  It was meticulously graded by her instructor--whose handwriting, predictably, was even better than my great-grandmother's. 

Grade inflation was clearly not a problem: The instructor deemed the content of one 11-page essay "excellent,"  but was forced to reduce the grade to the level of "very good" because of a single spelling error. The book is a fascinating glimpse into the high standards that at least Scotland--but probably most nations once had--for teacher candidates, not just because of the attention to technical rigor and polish, but because it shows how teacher candidates were once expected to demonstrate scholarship -- a word I fear that is not only out of fashion in parlance but practice as well.