For 125 years, there have been two constants in American education. Teachers are forever trying to devise the best ways to teach the students in front of them, and we have been right by your side, offering you the help you need to do your job better.
Sure, a lot has changed since 1891, including our name. We started out as Normal Instructor (named for the “normal schools” where teachers trained), and we now call ourselves Teacher, in line with what you call yourselves. But in some ways, not much has changed. We were surprised to find that in our first few issues, there were exercises for restless students, musings about grade inflation, and ways to use “technology” to lure students to school before the start of day.
While our early issues had certain themes that wouldn’t be out of place in today’s magazine, there was plenty of material that is outdated today: ads for corsets, war-based math problems that calculated weapon use, and the debate over routinely using corporal punishment in schools.
Looking back at all the articles from times past was a wonderful exercise that reinforced the value of what you do every day—teach children. We’re happy to be such a trusted partner, if not for 125 years personally, then for as long as you’ve been reading our magazine. Join us on this journey through various eras as we trace the history of education and teacher advice in America as seen in our pages.
1891–1915: Setting the Foundation
How we helped you in our pages: The concept of compulsory education and teacher training was only a few decades old when we made our debut in 1891. A good portion of each early issue aimed to introduce teachers to topics they might not be experts in (natural history, geography), as well as offer them help from peers. P. C. Palmer, a principal in Fenton, Michigan, was already arguing against teaching grammar in a dry manner in 1891, and the Question Box column of the 1890s answered teacher questions on poetry, government, and more. While the focus was on academic skills, there was also an emphasis on “moral training.” Wrote one commentator: “[T]he teacher ought to rejoice when he discovers in his pupil a strong will; not that he may break it but that he may train it and make of its possessor a man instead of a cringing, cowardly biped who would sell his vote for a quarter or a glass of beer.”
One of our favorite quotes: “The Normal Instructor is to be made distinctively a teacher’s paper [filled] with such matters as are of direct benefit to the teacher in his chosen work.”
1916–1929: Progressivism/Whole Child
How we helped you in our pages: Education reformer John Dewey’s theories gained popularity during the 1920s, and his analysis of what makes up “the whole child” took schools by storm. We featured columns on drama, etiquette, and other new school subjects. Teachers were told to extol the virtues of using handkerchiefs in song and to encourage children to “take a bath oftener than once a week”—and for the next 50 years, every issue contained at least one play for students to read or perform! Of course, part of the progressive movement involved helping teachers reflect on their own progress: “Do I have a more sympathetic, intelligent, and loving attitude toward childhood than I had a year ago? Have I a clearer vision of what the school’s finished product should be?”
One of our favorite quotes: “A classroom tea party affords children a pleasant opportunity to practice etiquette, and the fine art of conversation. Hold a tea party today.”
1930s: Thrift in Hard Times
How we helped you in our pages: The Great Depression marked the decade, and classrooms and teachers were not exempt. Schools were closed, salaries were cut, and programs were eliminated. An ad in our February 1933 issue showed teachers how to “Help Hungry Families” by urging pupils to buy penny seed packets to grow food. Another ad used an image of a medieval knight to inform teachers that “just as the shield was primarily a protection in battle, so the Mimeograph is a buffer against waste in the conflict of today!” Teachers had advice for colleagues, too. Jo Bruce Rogers wrote: “Erasers are scare in our rural school, but money is scarcer. So we supplement our limited supply by using small rectangles of sheepskin.” Allien Beck Alderson wrote that he created a free source of emergency paper by having students bring in old calendars, wrapping paper, and other scraps and nailing the paper to the wall so students could grab a sheet when needed.
One of our favorite quotes: “Undernourished pupils gain more than a pound a week…and do better school work, too.” This was in an ad for Cocomalt. Was it effective? We don’t know, but the coupon in our copy had been torn out, so some teacher tried it.
How we helped you in our pages: While these two topics might seem at odds, they actually dovetailed quite naturally. World War II dominated the culture, and, perhaps because of our increased involvement in world affairs, there was a yearning to learn about different countries. In our February 1940 issue, the Club Exchange section had numerous examples of teachers exchanging letters, pictures, and schoolwork with classrooms around the world, and there were many ads for travel to places like Switzerland and Brazil. In 1942, one columnist advised that “more material dealing with children and peoples of other lands should be included” because “tolerance and suspended judgment are highly desirable attitudes to encourage.” One librarian had advice on how classrooms could show their patriotic spirit: If children could reduce paper consumption through reuse, “[they] will be contributing to the war effort in a real and vital way. And your school will have some money to spend.” Lessons and posters on every subject focused on patriotism—even drinking milk or eating carrots was framed as keeping yourself healthy for Uncle Sam!
One of our favorite quotes: “Every time a person saves a vital material, such as rubber, he is helping win the war.” This 1942 article went on to explain how one teacher had collected an entire box of “worn-out galoshes” from her students.
1950s: Science and Technology
How we helped you in our pages: By the early ’50s, Americans were besotted with TV—and schools realized its potential. One columnist wrote: “Neither its existence nor effect can be ignored. We must study the medium… and experiment.” An annual A-V section offered advice on how to incorporate filmstrips, records, and tape recorders into lessons, and some teachers boasted of student “A-V Service Squads.” Science, of course, means doing, and a 1956 issue showed kids how to build a model volcano using a hot plate, candle wax, and a sparkler. In another experiment, students filled paper boats with water and heated them; the water boiled, though as long as the water remained, the paper never caught on fire! But it wasn’t until the Russians launched Sputnik, in 1957, that technology and science really took hold; a year later, funding for science and math education was greatly increased.
One of our favorite quotes: “Do children have sufficient opportunities to explore, to tinker, to invent?”
1960s: Diverse Learners
How we helped you in our pages: Many of the standards we accept for special education and English language learners were established during the 1970s, but the movement to integrate these students began in the 1960s. N. Neubert Jaffa, Baltimore’s supervisor of special education, talks about the “disadvantaged child” (which meant both special needs and economically disadvantaged students) and how to find activities that allow them to succeed. In May 1966, “Special Class” teacher Leone S. Keller described a “luncheon” his students threw for parents and said it increased their status among peers, bolstered academics, and improved teacher-parent relationships. And while civil rights wasn’t explicitly mentioned in our pages, the emphasis on helping all students integrate spoke to the changing face of U.S. classrooms.
One of our favorite quotes: “All pupils work best in an atmosphere of acceptance and trust, and where they are listened to with respect.”
How we helped you in our pages: The 1970s was a time of upheaval for the country. Though most schools didn’t face major disruptions, questions were being asked about how to best educate children. A section in our December 1972 issue argued that students’ sensory and emotional experiences should be considered. Tips ranged from allowing students to walk barefoot through mud to asking whether “foods have tastes that are angry, happy, etc.” Other stories discussed setting up a reading plan for each child and how to use games to motivate students to learn science. In December 1970, one question asked was: “Can all-boy classes work when the teacher is a woman?” Marilyn J. Gellis, a third-grade teacher in California, responded with “the answer is a resounding yes.” She wrote about altering her lessons to connect with boys’ interests (using “Creepy Crawlers” and found objects in the nearby desert), and how encouraging physical play can lesson the likelihood of fistfights.
One of our favorite quotes: “The implication is that we have all been off adventuring in ‘open education.’ We must teach the basics but we must do so in ways that reveal [its rewards].”
1980s: Reacting to A Nation at Risk
How we helped you in our pages: This 1983 report focused on how the nation was slipping in worldwide rankings—and a back-to-basics curriculum came back into style. In a 1987 issue, Francis Ferrara wrote about teacher frustration with fluctuating standards and increased testing, claiming that “those who establish policy are too far removed from the classroom, [and] we are the ones who must fit square pegs into round holes.” Despite massive changes and teacher layoffs, this decade was marked by your drive to create engaging experiences for students. In our January 1989 issue, language arts teacher Jerral Hicks shared a unit on grammar in which kids created their own commercials. Another issue had tips on how to include Luke Skywalker in reading lessons. We also ran an A+ Schools column, featuring an outstanding teacher or program every month. One of our favorite spotlights was on Keyes Elementary School in Irving, Texas—their early bilingual and ESL program built math and language skills through “touch” math by counting apples, toys, and other objects and writing stories about them.
One of our favorite quotes: “We had underestimated the students! We were delighted by the shift from adult management to child-directed problem solving.”
1990s: Computers and Connectivity
How we helped you in our pages: Apple created the first personal computer in 1976, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that schools fully embraced technology. As far back as 1990, you were our tech experts—we reported that Bank Street College found that of 600 computer-using teachers, “virtually all” were self-taught. Instructor debuted online in March 1996, and in the October 1996 issue, then-editor Mickey Revenaugh marveled that she received three e-mail notes from readers on a Saturday! A year later, we advised teachers to connect their home computers to the Internet. Of course, with new technology came new questions: Developmentally, when can children learn keyboarding? Would e-mail groups and chat rooms change professional development? In 1999, we added an Electronic Learning section for teachers to share tips. Advice ranged from viewing author websites when reading a new book to keeping digital grade books.
One of our favorite quotes: “My goal right now is simple: to figure out how to thread the paper in the printer so it doesn’t jam!”
2000–2016: Reform and Standards
How we helped you in our pages: While we didn’t take sides in the political fights involving No Child Left Behind or the Common Core State Standards, we did make sure to provide plenty of advice to guide you through a dizzying number of changes in standards and curriculum. After NCLB was passed, we connected all of the lessons in the magazine to the applicable standards in a page at the front of each issue and addressed common confusions that students might have about tests. We covered concerns over the Common Core standards during two straight years of issues. Our Back to School 2012 issue featured the cover story “Common Core: You Can Do It!” with an image of a Rosie the Riveter lookalike. A 2014 story, “Sparring Over Common Core,” noted that as “politicians duke it out, teachers do what they do best—teach.” But we covered many other topics, too. A 2011 issue had lessons on how to use Google Maps to discuss setting and on teaching about the Federal Reserve through a scavenger hunt. And in Winter 2016, we took you to camp with our coverage of the teacher-driven Edcamp movement!
One of our favorite quotes: “LINDA LUCK: Linda believes that she will rely on luck to pass the test.
SHORT-ANSWER SHAWN: Shawn tries to answer every question with the shortest response possible. IGNORING IZZY: Izzy goes right to the test questions without reading the directions.”
Photo: Underwood Archives/Getty Images