Ryerson And The Training Of Teachers

NORMAL SCHOOLS were mooted in Upper Canada before Ryerson became Superintendent. As early as 1843, Sir Francis Hincks said that the school system would never be complete without them.* In his Report on a System of Education made in 1846, Ryerson made it clear that any system of education must have as its basis trained teachers, and to secure trained teachers was almost impossible without Normal Schools. His report gives details of the Normal School systems of Great Britain and Ireland, France, Holland, Germany, and the United States. One or two schools had just been established in Massachusetts and one in Albany_ Ryerson visited these, but was most favourably impressed with the Dublin Normal and Model Schools, as managed by the Commissioners of the Irish National Board of Education, and our first Normal School was modelled largely after the Dublin type.

The legislation of 1846 appropriated 11,500 for fitting up a Normal School building and made an additional appropriation of £1500 per annum for maintenance. The School Bill of 1846 created a Council of Public Instruction to work with the Chief Superintendent, and placed the proposed Normal School under its management. The Council of Public Instruction lost no time in beginning work. As early as May, 1846, they were planning an early opening of the Normal School, and were in communication with John Rintoul, of the Dublin Normal School, about accepting the head mastership of the proposed Normal School at Toronto. It was proposed to give Mr. Rintoul £350, Halifax currency, and £100 for moving expenses. Mr. Rintoul accepted the appointment, resigned his position in Dublin, and was about to leave for Canada when, owing to some domestic affliction, he had to abandon his plans. The Commissioners of the Irish National Board then selected Thomas Jaffray Robertson to take Rintoul’s place and the Council of Public Instruction chose as his assistant Mr. Henry Hind, of Thorne Hill. Robertson sailed from Ireland in July, 1847, and in November of the same year the Normal School was opened.

It was a part of Ryerson’s plan that the several District Councils of Upper Canada should choose two or three promising young men and send them to the Normal School, paying at least part of their expenses. The following extract from the Regulations issued by the Council of Public Instruction in 1847 will illustrate the requirements for admission to the first Normal School in Upper Canada: ” 1st. That the Provincial Normal School shall be open about the 1st of July next, and the first session shall continue until the middle of October, T847. 2nd. That every candidate for admission into the Normal School, in order to his being received, must comply with the following conditions : Ile must be at least sixteen years of age ; produce a certificate of good moral character signed by a clergyman; be able to read and write intelligibly and be acquainted with the simple rules of arithmetic ; must declare in writing that he intends to devote himself to teaching (other students not candidates for school teaching to be admitted only on paying fees and dues to be prescribed). 3rd. Upon the foregoing conditions candidates for school teaching shall be admitted to all the advantages of the Normal School without any charge either for tuition or for books. 4th. Candidates shall lodge and board in the city under such regulations as shall from time to time be approved by this Board.”

The school was formally opened by Dr. Ryerson, November 1st, in the presence of a distinguished company. The Model School was opened the following February.

The Normal School pupils were, many of them, poorly equipped for a course of training. They had received no adequate secondary education. In fact, many of them were direct from the Common Schools. A few were mature men who had a considerable teaching experience.

It was necessary to give a broad academic course and judiciously interweave some professional training. Grammar and mathematics received much greater attention than their importance merited. Physical science and natural philosophy, together with some agricultural chemistry, received a prominent place on the programme. Geography was also made much of, but it was largely mathematical and political and elaborately illustrated with globes and maps. Literature and history were taught, but not in a way to arouse much enthusiasm. Pupils were supposed not to learn by heart what they did not understand, but there was in practice much memory work and repetition of rules.

On the whole, the Normal School was approved by all classes of people, and the teachers trained there were in great demand. But there was some criticism, especially of the provision by which four shillings a week was granted to students to aid them in paying their board.

Inasmuch as this money was deducted from the school grant, it was argued that the teachers in service were actually educating in the Normal School others who would displace them. Exception was also taken to granting aid to students who had no intention of making teaching their life work. To meet this difficulty, students accepting public money towards their expenses were required to give assurance that they would teach a stated time, and others, called private pupils, were charged fees for tuition.

In 1849 the experiment was made of a nine months’ session, but the country was not yet ready for this step and the attendance was so reduced that the plan was abandoned.

In 185o, the Council of Public Instruction attempted to widen the influence of the Normal School by sending the Normal School masters to attend Teachers’ Institutes throughout the Province. In this way many earnest teachers who had received no training were given suggestions that bore much fruit.

When the Normal School was established, it was held in the old Legislative Buildings of Upper Canada. After the riots in Montreal, in 1849, Toronto again became the seat of Government and the Normal School had to move. Temporary quarters were obtained while the Council of Public Instruction took steps to secure a permanent home, not only for the Normal School, but for the Education Department. The present site was secured and Parliament made an appropriation of £15,000 to provide for it and for a building. In July, 1851, Lord Elgin laid the corner-stone.*

The address of Dr. Ryerson, in introducing the Governor, shows that he had no thought of divorcing the Common Schools from agriculture, the backbone industry of the people. He says : ” The land on which these buildings are in course of erection is an entire square, consisting of nearly eight acres, two of which are to be devoted to a botanical garden, three to agricultural experiments, and the remainder to the buildings of the institution. It is thus intended that the valuable course of lectures given in the Normal School in vegetable physiology and agricultural chemistry shall be practically illustrated on the adjoining grounds, in the culture of which the students will take part during a portion of their hours of recreation. . . . There are four circumstances which en-courage the most sanguine anticipations in every patriotic heart in regard to our educational future. The first is the avowed and entire absence of all party spirit in the school affairs of our country from the Provincial Legislature down to the smallest municipality. The second is the precedence which our Legislature has taken of all others on the western side of the Atlantic in providing for Normal School instruction, in aiding teachers to avail themselves of its advantages. The third is that the people of Upper Canada have during the last year voluntarily taxed themselves for the salaries of teachers in a larger sum in pro-portion to their numbers and have kept open their schools on an average more months than the neighbouring citizens of the old and great State of New York. The fourth is that the essential requisite of a series of suitable and excellent textbooks has been introduced into our schools and adopted almost by general acclamation, and that the facilities of furnishing all our schools with the necessary books, maps, and apparatus will soon be in advance of those of any other country.”* In November, 1852, When the buildings t were formally opened, the Honourable John Beverley Robin-son, Chief Justice of Upper Canada, said: ” Without such a general preparatory system as we see here in operation, the instruction of the great mass of our population would be left in a measure to chance. The teachers might be, many of them, ignorant pretenders without experience, without method, and in some respects very improper persons to he entrusted with the education of youth. There could be little or no security for what they might teach, or what they might attempt to teach, nor any certainty that the good which might he acquired from their precepts would not be more than counterbalanced by the ill effects of their example. Indeed the footing which our Common School teachers were formerly upon in regard to income gave no adequate remuneration to intelligent and industrious men to devote their time to the service. But this disadvantage is largely removed, as well as other obstacles which were inseparable from the conditions of a thinly-peopled and uncleared country traversed only by miserable roads, and henceforth, as soon at least as the benefits of this institution can be fully felt, the Common Schools will be dispensing throughout the whole of Upper Canada, by means of properly-trained teachers and under vigilant superintendents, a system of education which has been carefully considered and arranged, and which has been for some time practically exemplified. An observation of some years has enabled most of us to form an opinion of its sufficiency. Speaking only for myself, I have much pleasure in saying that the degree of proficiency which has been actually attained goes far, very far, beyond what I had imagined it would have been attempted to aim at.”

The following from Honourable Francis Hincks leaves us in no doubt as to Ryerson’s part in securing the building. He says : ” With regard to this institution, so far it has been most successfully conducted, and I feel bound to say that we must attribute all the merit of that success to the reverend gentleman who has been at the head of our Common School system. It is only due to him that I should take this public opportunity of saying that since I have been a member of the Government I have never met an individual who has displayed more zeal or more devotion to the duties he has been called upon to discharge than Dr. Ryerson. A great deal of opposition has been manifested both in and out of Parliament to this institution, and a good deal of jealousy exists with regard to its having been established in the city of Toronto. I can speak from my own experience as to the difficulties experienced in obtaining the co-operation of Parliament to have the necessary funds provided for the purpose of erecting this building. I will say, however, that there never was an institution in which the people have more confidence that the funds were well applied than in this institution. There is but one feeling that pervades the minds of all those who have seen the manner in which this scheme has been worked out. In regard to the Normal School itself, the site has been well chosen, the buildings have been erected in a most permanent manner, and without anything like extravagance, and I have no doubt there will be no difficulty in obtaining additional Parliamentary aid to finish them.”

In his report for 1853, Ryerson suggests Normal training for Grammar School teachers. I shall give his own words: ” The Provincial Normal and Model Schools have contributed, and are contributing, much to the improvement of our Common Schools by furnishing a proper standard of judgment and comparison as to what such schools ought to be and how they should be taught and governed, and by furnishing teachers duly qualified for that important task. There is equal need of a Provincial Model Grammar School, in which the best modes of teaching the elements of Greek and Latin, French and German, the elementary mathematics and the elements of natural science, may be exemplified, and where teachers and candidates for masterships of Grammar Schools may have an opportunity for practical observation and training during a shorter or longer period. Such a school would complete the educational establishments of our school system and contribute powerfully to advance Upper Canada to the proud position which she is approaching in regard to institutions and agencies for the mental culture of her youthful population.”

The Legislature voted L1,000 for a Model Grammar School, and in 1855 plans for a building were prepared under direction of the Council of Public Instruction. The estimate exceeded the means at the disposal of the Council and nothing was done until 1856, when Ryerson wrote the Executive Council as follows: ” There is no branch of our system of Public Instruction so defective as our Gram-mar Schools, and the ` Model ‘ for them as to both structure and furniture, discipline, modes of classification and teaching is of the utmost importance… . I am persuaded that a saving of one-half of the time and expense usually incurred in the Grammar School education of youth may be saved by improved methods in teaching and directing their studies, a result which will greatly increase the number of those who will aspire to a higher literary education apart from other advantages and intellectual habits and discipline. It is proposed to erect the Model Grammar School in the rear of the present Model School. . . . The proposed mode of admitting pupils will prevent the Model Grammar School from interfering with or being the rival of any other Grammar School.

It is also intended to afford every possible facility and assistance to masters and teachers of Grammar Schools throughout the Province to come and spend some weeks in the Model Grammar School.” *

The Government now authorized the Council of Public Instruction to proceed with the erection of a building to accommodate one hundred Grammar School pupils. The school was opened in T858. It was the intention to give a preference to the two or three pupils from each county and city in Upper Canada who were recommended by the respective Municipal Councils. Ryerson’s circular to these Councils will throw some light on the subject: ” The object of the Model Grammar School is to exemplify the best methods of teaching the branches required by law to be taught in the Grammar Schools, especially the elementary classics and mathematics, as a model for the Grammar Schools of the country. It is also intended that the Model Grammar School shall, as far as possible, secure the advantages of a Normal Classical School to candidates for masterships in the Grammar School ; but effect cannot be given to this object of the Model Grammar School during the first few months of its operation.” t In 1859, in a report to the Government, Ryerson speaks further and says : ” In regard to the Model Grammar Schools the buildings are completed and the school has been in operation several months and with the most gratifying success. Upwards of thirty masters of Grammar Schools have in the course of a few weeks visited and spent a longer or shorter time in the Model Grammar School with a view to improving their own methods of school organization, discipline, and teaching; and I have reason to believe that it has already exerted a salutary influence in improving the several Grammar Schools—an influence that will be greatly increased when we are enabled to form a special class consisting of candidates for Grammar School masterships.” *

In ]861 , Mr. G. R. Cockburn, Rector of the Model Grammar School, resigned to become principal of Upper Canada College. Ryerson wished to transfer the functions of the Model Grammar School to Upper Canada College. This was not agreed to, but the same year pro-vision was made for admitting candidates for Grammar School masterships to a course in training in the Model Grammar School. Up to this time the School had been of professional service as a school of observation, the holidays being so arranged that its classes were in session while Grammar School masters were on holiday.

In July, 1863, the Model Grammar School was finally closed. The following from a letter sent by Ryerson to the Provincial Secretary makes clear the reasons for this action : ” When the Model Grammar School was established it was expected that nearly every county in Upper Canada would be represented in it and pro-vision was macle for that purpose. That important object has not been realized; and although the attendance at the school has been larger during the last year than during any previous year, reaching even to too, the attendance as in former years has been chiefly from Toronto and its neighbourhood. I do not think it just to the General Fund to maintain an additional Toronto Grammar School. During the past year a training class for Grammar School masterships, consisting to a considerable extent of students in the University, has been successfully established. But it has been found that the instruction in all subjects, except Greek, Latin, and French, can be given in the Normal School to better advantage than in the Model Grammar School.”*

Trained teachers for the Grammar Schools were much to be desired, and Ryerson deserves credit for his progressive ideas. But just at that stage in their evolution, although they contained many scholarly men, the Grammar Schools as a whole were more in need of teachers with sound scholarship than of teachers with a little professional training.

There continued to be complaints that teachers trained in the Normal Schools did not continue to teach. In his Report for 1856, Ryerson makes clear that in his opinion these defections from the teaching ranks were no condemnation of Normal Schools. He says : ” The only objection yet made to the training of teachers, as far as I know, is that many of them do not pursue that profession but leave it for other employments. Were this true to the full extent imagined, the conclusion would still be in favours of the Normal School. since its advantages are not confined to schools or neighbourhoods in which its teachers are employed, but are extended over other neighbourhoods and municipalities…. In all professions and pursuits there are changes from one to another. I do not think it wise, just, or expedient to deny to the Normal School teacher the liberty, if opportunity presents itself, to improve his position or increase his usefulness.

In whatever position or relation of life a Normal School teacher may be placed, his training at the Normal School cannot fail to contribute to his use fulness.”*

Nor was all the criticism of Normal School affairs directed towards the teachers who left the profession ; those who remained in it were emissaries of evil. Then, as now, there were croakers who thought that a boy born on a farm naturally belonged there, and that any enlightenment which tended to make him dissatisfied with his surroundings was an evil. One, signing himself Angus Dallas of Toronto, wrote several pamphlets attacking the school system. Speaking of the Normal School, he said : ” The young men who have attended six months at that institution and leave it with certificates to teach, go forth into the country with the most mistaken estimate of their own importance. They open schools wherever accident places them, and by teaching and familiar intercourse, combined with the ex-ample of nomadic habits, for they seldom remain longer than twelve months in one place, they soon contaminate the minds of the older pupils and also of young men who may reside in the neighbourhood, by their doctrines of enlightened citizenship; and thus these pupils soon learn to disdain honest labour.”

In 1855, the Legislature had authorized a museum and library in connection with the Department of Education. These were formally opened in 1857 and the library contributed much to increase the efficiency of the Normal School by widening the scope of the students’ reading.

In the following year the Council of Public Instruction revised the Normal School Regulations. Qualifications necessary for admission were accurately set forth and the course of study defined for both second and first-class certificates. There continued to be two sessions a year, but students who entered to qualify for a second-class certificate spent two or more sessions before reaching a standard entitling them to a first-class certificate.

An interesting sidelight is thrown upon the nature of the instruction given in the Toronto Normal School by the Report for 1868 of George Paxton Young, Inspector of Grammar Schools. Young was trying to raise the standard of the Grammar Schools, and shows how their improvement would affect the Normal Schools. He says : ” I suppose there can be no doubt that if High Schools like those which I have described were established, it would be necessary to modify the work of the Normal School considerably. Teachers who would have to perform different duties from what have hitherto been expected at their hands would need a different training from what has hitherto been given. The instructions in English in the Normal School would require to be raised to a far higher level than is now aimed at. Much of the elementary drilling which Normal School students at present receive might be dispensed with. Our institution for the training of teachers ought not to be a school for teaching English grammar. In the same way I would lighten the ship of such subjects as the bare facts of geography and history; not rejecting of course prelections on the proper method of teaching geography and history. The English master in the Normal School might thus be enabled to devote a portion of his time to lessons in the English language and literature of a superior cast—lessons which he would have a pride in giving and on which the students would feel it a privilege to wait. Such lessons would be immensely useful even to those young men and women who might only desire to qualify them-selves for becoming Common School teachers. In the department of physical science, it is plain that if the views which I have expressed in regard to the way in which science should be taught in the High Schools be just, the object of the prelections in the Normal School should not be to cram the students with a mass of facts but to develop in them a philosophic habit of mind and to make them practically understand how classes in science ought to be con-ducted in the schools.”

No man in Canada was better qualified to estimate the real work of any educational establishment than Young, and although he was not closely connected with the Normal School, we may assume that his analysis was essentially correct and that the study of formal grammar and the acquisition of scientific facts bulked large in the Normal School programme. In his report for 1867,t in speaking of the Normal and Model Schools, Ryerson says : ” They are not constituted as are most of the Normal Schools in both Europe and America to impart the preliminary education requisite for teaching. That preparatory education is supposed to have been attained in the ordinary public or private schools. The entrance examination to the Normal School requires this. The object of the Normal and Model Schools is, therefore, to do for the teacher what an apprenticeship does for the mechanic, the artist, the physician, the lawyer to teach him theoretically and practically how to do the work of his profession.”

A little consideration will show us that a school trying to realize such an aim and attempting to teach only the rudiments of the science of education, upon which the theory of teaching is based, must become empirical and rule-of-thumb in its methods. The real difficulty lay in the inadequate preparation with which the teachers in training entered upon their work. The Normal School could not improve until an improvement should be effected in the Grammar Schools.

During the first nine sessions of the Normal School no certificates were granted which en-titled the holder to teach. The Normal School graduates simply received certificates of attendance and had to submit to examination by a County Board before securing a license. It almost invariably happened that Normal School graduates were able to take a high standing at these examinations, and hence Ryerson met with no serious opposition from County Boards when in 1853 he proposed to issue Provincial certificates to Normal School graduates upon the recommendation of the Normal School masters. From 1853 to 1871 a dual system of granting certificates was in operation. Normal School graduates received Provincial certificates of various grades, and County Boards issued certificates valid only in the county where issued. In 1871 a radical change was made, by which County Boards were allowed to issue only third-class certificates valid for three years in the county where given, and renewable on the recommendation of the County Inspector. Second and first-class certificates were granted only by the Department of Education and valid during good behaviour, and in any part of the Province. A first-class certificate of the highest grade (Grade ” A”) was made the qualification for County Inspectors. It should also be noted that the third-class certificates referred to above were granted after 1871 only upon the passing of a written examination upon papers prepared by a central committee chosen by the Council of Public Instruction. This was a radical change from the old method, which allowed each County Board to fix its own standard, a plan which necessarily led to many certificates being granted to wholly incompetent persons.

The change of 1871, which virtually established a Provincial system of licensing teachers, brought upon Ryerson’s head much abuse from incompetent teachers and their friends. The Superintendent stood firmly by his guns, knowing well that his act was in the best interests of the Province. A few words from his reply to those who objected that old teachers were being set aside because of failure to pass the Provincial examination is worth mentioning. He says : ” I answer, as government exists not for office-holders but for the people, so the school exists not for the teachers but for the youth and future generations of the land: and if teachers have been too slothful not to keep pace with the progressive wants and demands of the country, they must, as should all incompetent and indolent public officers, and all lazy and unenterprising citizens, give place to the more industrious, intelligent, progressive, and enterprising. The sound education of a generation of children is not to be sacrificed for the sake of an incompetent although antiquated teacher.”

Having secured the adoption of a system by which all licensing of teachers was under Departmental control, Ryerson next turned his attention to an extension of facilities for training teachers. H Hs plans were comprehensive and had to wait thirty-five years for complete realization. In 1872 t lie reported to the Provincial Treasurer as follows : ” I desire to state in reply that last year I thought and suggested to the Government that two additional Normal Schools were required, one in the eastern and the other in the western section of the Province, but I am now inclined to think that three additional Normal Schools will be required to extend the advantages of a Normal School training to all parts of the Province—one at London, one at Kingston, and one at Ottawa. If provision be not made to establish them all at once, I think the first established should be at Ottawa—the centre of a large region of country where the schools are in a comparatively backward state, and where the influence of the Normal School training for teachers has yet been scarcely felt except in a few towns, and which is almost entirely separated from Toronto in all branches of business and commerce, and therefore, to a great extent, in social relations and sympathies. . . As the whole Province east of Belleville is less advanced and less progressive in schools than the western parts, I think a second Normal School should be established at Kingston. The whole region of country from Belleville, on the west, to Brockville, on the east, has very little more business or commercial connection with Toronto than the more eastern parts of the Province. Although London is not so remote from Toronto as Ottawa or Kingston, yet it is the centre of a populous and prosperous part of the Province from which an ample number of student teachers would be collected to fill any Normal School. . . . With the establishment of these three Normal Schools I am persuaded there would still be as large a number of student teachers attending the Toronto School as can advantageously be trained in one institution. . . I think all the Normal Schools should be subject to the oversight of the Education Department and under the same regulations formally sanctioned by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council. This I think necessary on the grounds of both economy and uniformity of standard and system of instruction. As to the extent of accommodation in each Normal School, I think that provision should be made for training 150 teachers in each school.”

In the meantime, while negotiations for more Normal School accommodation were in progress, an attempt was made to give some professional training through teachers’ institutes. As far back as 185o the Legislature had made a grant for such meetings, and they had been conducted by the Normal School masters. In 1872 the plan was revised and some very successful institutes held. The movement is important because out of it grew County Model Schools, and the adoption of a principle which meant some professional training for every teacher.

In 1875, a Normal School was opened at Ottawa, but the plan of having schools at Kingston and London was abandoned largely because of the apathy of the Legislature in regard to the expense. In fact it is doubtful if any Government could have forced through the Legislature a vote for such a purpose.

Ryerson found the schools in 1844 taught by teachers without certificates and without professional training; he left them in 1876 with teachers, all of whom were certificated under Government examinations, and many of whom were Normal-trained. More important still, he had, by his lectures at County Conventions and by his writings in the Journal of Education, created a sentiment throughout the Province in favour of trained teachers. He thus made easy the pathway of his successors in securing increased efficiency ; but it may be doubted whether any of his immediate successors achieved results in keeping with the material advance of the Province.