A normal school, also known as a teachers’ college, is a school that trains teachers, generally for the primary, or elementary, grades. One of the first normal schools was founded in Paris in the late 1600s.
By the early 1800s, the concept of normal schools moved to the U.S. Vermont opened one in Concord in the 1820s. In 1839, Massachusetts opened the first state-funded school for training teachers in Lexington. Prior to this period, U.S. colleges existed for education in other fields such as law or medicine but not for teacher education. Before the establishment of these schools, no formal teacher training existed. Most teachers were male because women did not have the same educational opportunities.
The Normal School in Massachusetts was considered an experimental plan. Women were allowed to enroll in these teacher training programs. James G. Carter, a state legislator, was significant in the formation of the first Board of Education in Massachusetts. The first secretary of the Board of Education was Horace Mann.
Prior to the formation of the normal school, strict memorizat the primary teaching method used in the U.S. The normal schools encouraged a process of critical thinking and guidance as preferable teaching methods. Another normal school in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, graduated a class of 26 who went on to lead teaching schools in other states, including Illinois and Michigan.
As the concept of the normal school spread to other states, the idea of teacher education expanded to incorporate model classrooms and a learning laboratory environment. Typically, the school program was two years in length. Many schools, promoting the art and science of teaching, were established in the U.S. during 1870-90. To supplement the teaching schools, county-level teacher institutes were also held.