What is a Normal School?

Cathy Rogers

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.

The Normal School in Massachusetts was considered an experimental plan.
The Normal School in Massachusetts was considered an experimental plan.

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.

Normal schools train future teachers.
Normal schools train future teachers.

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.

Normal schools prepare those who eventually go on to teach in elementary grades.
Normal schools prepare those who eventually go on to teach in elementary grades.

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.

Normal schools are also known as teachers' colleges.
Normal schools are also known as teachers' colleges.

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Discussion Comments


I am writing an essay about normal schools and this is really helpful.


I am glad that normal schools started emphasizing critical thinking. Memorization is really hard for some people, but those same people who have trouble remembering dates or names could improve by taking it on from another angle.

Instead of just learning that a war happened on a certain date between two countries, a student could better remember the war if he thought more in-depth about the reasons behind it and the motivations of each country. Critical thinking encourages reasoning not found in textbooks, and it can lead to a deeper understanding of why things happened the way that they did.


I would have thought that the first teachers would have been female! When we think of school teachers, we tend to picture maternal figures who not only inform but also nurture the children.

When I was in school, it seemed that mostly all of my female teachers took on a voluntary motherly role. From comforting me when I cried to go home in elementary school to washing the jeans I had spilled paint thinner on in home economics, the women stepped in to help out in all areas.

Though the male teachers were nice enough, they really did not swoop in to help you with personal problems. That was okay with me, because most of my issues needed a feminine solution anyway!


@SZapper - I know teaching is a female dominated field but I actually have not one but two male friends who are teachers!

I found this article to be very interesting. The university I attended actually started out in the 1800's as the state teaching college. It was actually called the state normal school, then later the name was changed to the state teacher's college. I've always wondered about the origins of the term "normal school" so I'm glad I stumbled on this article.


I think it's interesting that before normal schools most teachers tended to be men. It just shows that women can do just as well as men if offered the same educational opportunities! These days I think teaching is definitely a female dominated profession.

And actually I read recently that currently more women than men earn advanced degrees. Look like the tables have turned!


A "normal school" had no seminary, and awarded no degrees in theology. "Normal" means "secular".

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