A portal into the past and present of teacher preparation

By Emma Lyons

Arts & Features Editor


Kelly Kolodny and Mary-Lou Breitborde presented their book “Teacher Preparation in the United States: History, Current Conditions, and Policy” in the Heineman Ecumenial Center Oct. 27.


Their presentation, sponsored by Arts & Ideas, is the latest installment in the Linda Vaden Goad Authors and Artists series.


Reema Zeineldin, associate vice president of Academic Affairs, made a statement recognizing Framingham State University is located on land of the indigenous Nipmuc tribe.


“We [FSU] would like to acknowledge that they [indigenous people] have suffered oppression, that they were dispossessed of their lands, they were also deprived of their self determination - which is something that we need to remember always. It has impacted their lives up to today,” she said.


Zeineldin said this must always be kept in mind when learning and teaching in order to work toward social justice and oppose oppression and racism.


She introduced Kolodny, an education professor at FSU, and Breitborde, a professor emeritus of education at Salem State University - the two speakers of the event.


Kolodny has previously served as a department chair and is currently the coordinator of post-baccalaureate teacher licensure at Framingham State.


Breitborde also serves as the associate dean of education and as the director for the Center of Education and Community at Salem State, she said.


Kolodny explained the purpose of the book is to explore the way teachers have been prepared to work with students within the context of historical time, place, and circumstances.


“In our book, we highlight both the opportunities and challenges connected to teacher preparation initiatives in various periods in U.S. history,” she said.


Breitborde then spoke, explaining her personal insights in writing the book.


As an educator, she said she mainly focuses on what occurs in classrooms present day, but she “jumped at the prospect” of looking into the history of teaching.


Breitborde said she had assumed that she would be able to use her past knowledge to compile information for the book, but found more information being uncovered through the internet.


“It’s really terrific how much is out there now, how much is on the internet and how much has been uncovered - particularly the stories around teacher education on the part of people who have been left out of the story,” she said.


Kolodny also offered her own insights into the process of creating the book.


She said she found that writing brought her a sense of peace. “I learned a lot through writing, but it’s something more for me.”


Kolodny also acknowledged Breitborde as a mentor when she first met her. “I remember that Mary-Lou took me under her wing and helped me understand the state-level policy work.”


Their presentation began by examining teacher preparation in the 21st century and then looking back throughout history, wrapping up the presentation when they returned to discussions about contemporary teacher preparations.


Kolodny explained currently there are several ways for teachers to pursue licensure. “The first is through university-based, state-approved and nationally-accredited licensure programs at baccalaureate, post-baccalaureate, and master levels.”


There are also district-based licensure programs that are state-approved and provisional emergency certificates that can be issued by the state as alternative routes to licensure, she said.


In contemporary schools, they found that the student populations are very diverse, but that the teachers in schools usually do not match that diversity.


“When we think about the contemporary context of schooling, we know that our students and our teachers are encountering different circumstances,” she said.


“They [the students] encounter systemic racist practices, they encounter the opioid crisis - and the increasing number of children who entered the foster care system as a result of that crisis - they’ve encountered the pandemic, and they also encounter gun violence,” she said.


Kolodny displayed a photo of students at a demonstration condemning gun violence, organized by Teens for Gun Reform, a student organization in the Washington D.C. area.


She said the photo is not only focused on the demonstration itself, but also focused on the fear the students in the photo must face every day.


“This is a contemporary circumstance that our young people and our teachers are encountering in the school systems and in teacher preparation programs,” she said.


Kolodny turned the stage over to Breitborde, who brought the discussion back to colonial times.


Breitborde said colonial times were not the start of teaching in America, and that there had been education within the communities of indigenous peoples who lived in America before colonization.


She said there were “extreme differences” in education offered in different areas based on geography.


Education in New England was varied from education in the mid-Atlantic states and the south - where Breitborde said there was “next-to-nothing” in terms of education.


Education during that time period was very exclusive. Breitborde said there was no education to impoverished people, the elderly, Black people, and enslaved people.


Breitborde narrowed the discussion to Massachusetts in 1647, when the first law was passed to “ensure that children had the ability to read and understand the principles of religion and the capital laws of this country.”


She said the law stated that a community of 50 people would have to hire a teacher for approximately three grade levels of basic education in reading and writing. It also stated that a community of 100 people would have their taxes raised in order to fund a grammar school.


Breitborde also talked about schools created in order to prepare citizens to vote. “That meant men, white men, [who] contribute to economic growth and strengthen American identity.”


The only requirements for teachers during this time period was that the teacher needed to know as much as their oldest student and they needed to be a Christian who attended church every Sunday, she said.


Kolodny spoke again as their presentation shifted to education in the 1800s when states began to take responsibility for teacher preparation programs.


She said states began to set guidelines for teacher preparation because of a lack of uniformity across schools.


Kolodny said that Horace Mann advocated for state normal schools. “He believed that teacher preparation programs should be overseen by the state to ensure consistency and quality.”


The first state normal school - now Framingham State University - opened in Lexington in 1839, she said. By 1870, there were 39 state normal schools across the United States.


The curriculum had advanced to include reviews of “the common branches of knowledge,” spelling, reading, writing, grammar, geography, and advanced language studies, Kolodny said.


She said not all normal schools were open to women, but the ones open to women allowed them to enter when they were 16 years old. Men were allowed to enter at 17 years old.


Kolodny gave brief overviews of Shuji Isawa, Mary Swift Lamson, and Charlotte Forten. They were three of the early state normal school graduates.


As the discussion shifted to the late 19th century, Breitborde said westward migration, immigration, and the Civil War caused a teacher shortage within that time period.


She said because men were leaving teaching positions to fight in the Civil War, more women were becoming teachers. This is what caused teaching to be seen as “women’s work.”


This time period also brought the rise of industrialization, which allowed girls to stay in school longer, causing more women to finish high school compared to boys who had to pursue jobs, she said.


However, women would be paid half as much as men did in teaching positions, she said.


The Great Awakening also played a large role in teaching because teaching was used to convert children to Christianity, Breitborde said.


“It gave them a religious, spiritual, moral purpose in any of the work they did,” she said.


Breitborde said the two groups who were unable to benefit from normal schools were rural teachers who did not have enough money to move away from home and pursue a proper education, and Black prospective teachers who had no access to the normal schools.


Kolodny shifted the discussion to the late 20th century during the Civil Rights Movement, the war on poverty, and new federal mandates on education.


By this time in the ’60s, the standards for teacher education had risen, she said.


“Forty-two states and territories required a baccalaureate degree for elementary school teaching. All states required a baccalaureate degree for high school teachers. And then by the end of the 20th century, the baccalaureate degree was required for all certified licensed early childhood elementary and secondary teachers,” she said.


Kolodny returned the discussion to the original timeframe of the 21st century, appreciating that teacher preparation programs recognize the different needs, experiences, and perspectives that students and families have.


“Teacher preparation programs were introduced to new courses, such as sheltered English immersion, to help prepare them to work with children and families of diverse backgrounds,” she said.


“The contents of life, work, and school have certainly changed, but common elements in the work of teachers have persevered,” she said.


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