From Teacher Training to Teacher Education

September 29, 2017
Julius Buski
Corbett Hall was the first home of the faculty of education at the University of Alberta.
Photo courtesy of the University of Alberta Archives Accession #69-97-263

As we continue our voyage toward true professional status, it is important to be mindful of the progress that’s actually been achieved. Many of today’s teacher education graduates, coming into the profession with at least one degree and often two, might be surprised to learn that in the early 1900s, our schools were often staffed with individuals who had just graduated from high school or at best, from normal school[1].

In 1905 the newly minted province of Alberta had no institutions to educate teachers, but in 1906 the province was quick to establish a normal school in Calgary, with a four-month course of teacher preparation. In 1912 the Camrose Normal School opened, followed by Edmonton in 1920. Standards of teacher preparation remained dismally poor and these were exacerbated by a paucity of qualified applicants, due in part to poor working conditions, low salaries and World War I, which contributed to the teacher shortage. It should not be surprising that the Alberta Teachers’ Alliance (and its successor organization the Alberta Teachers’ Association) had a strong and continuing interest in teacher education:

…the ATA has always been concerned with the pre-service education of its future members. Its interest has been manifold. With better-qualified teachers, better salaries could be obtained and the financial circumstances of teachers as a group would improve. With more highly qualified teachers, the prestige and status of the craft would rise and more nearly approximate that of a profession. … There was another profound reason for the teachers’ unremitting push to improve the qualifications of classroom practitioners: a deep desire to better Alberta’s educational system.[2]

The fledgling Alberta Teachers’ Alliance had a broad vision for itself and for education in the province.  Its 1918 constitution included the following.

The purpose of the Society shall be: (a) to advance and safeguard the cause of education in the Province of Alberta; (b) to raise the status of the teaching profession in the Province of Alberta….

In the succeeding decade, neither the Liberal nor the U.F.A. government were sympathetic to the Alliance’s recommendations. Among these were

1. grade XII to be the minimum standing for normal school entrance; and/or
2. two years of preparation beyond Grade XI to be required for teacher certification;
3. admission standards to normal school to be raised and tightened;
4. the A.T.A. to be granted representation on all boards and committees concerned with teacher training and certification.

The Alliance was also concerned with the type of candidates being attracted to the teaching profession, as evidenced in the following manifesto of 1921:

We believe that the status of the teaching profession can be raised by increasing salaries, thereby attracting to and retaining within the profession a large number of persons of the right type, and also rendering it possible to select those best fitted for the work of teaching and to give these the highest possible grade of training.[3]

The long term goal of the ATA and its leaders was to move teacher preparation to the university, where teachers could be educated shoulder to shoulder with other professionals. The Alliance pressed for an upgrading in the standards required for admission to the teaching profession and for improvements in the length and content of the normal school curricula. It did meet with some early limited success. In 1928, in response to lobbying by the ATA and its leaders, the senate of the University of Alberta approved the establishment of a school of education at the university, for the preparation of high school teachers. In 1939, as a result of further lobbying, the school became the college of education, with M.E. LaZerte, the director of the school, named as principal of the college.[4]

The Association, through its leaders and its general secretary John Barnett, continued to press for the next step — full faculty status for education. In 1941, a university survey committee (which included Barnett and H.C. Newland, a past president of the ATA) recommended that the college of education immediately become a faculty, with total jurisdiction over the granting of a three-year undergraduate bachelor of education degree. This came to pass in 1942, with LaZerte named as the first dean. In 1944, at its annual general meeting, the Association passed a resolution that the faculty take over teachers’ preservice and inservice education. This happened in 1945 and the normal schools were closed.

An interesting sidebar to the story is that the college of education might not have been promoted so quickly to a faculty were it not for an action of the University of Alberta senate in 1941. The university president, Dr. W.A. Kerr, had invited Premier William Aberhart (who was a former high school principal from Calgary) to attend convocation, give the convocation address and receive an honorary doctorate.  This action needed to be ratified by the university senate, an action that the president assumed would follow automatically. This was not the case. The senate defeated the motion to grant the honorary doctorate by one vote. Kerr had to withdraw the invitation and subsequently resigned as president. Aberhart appointed a committee to survey the whole university organization and its recommendations resulted in a new University Act that replaced the senate as the body that had authority over university programs. That same committee made the recommendation regarding faculty status for the college of education.


Above: The Camrose Normal School circa 1916.
Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta; A11923

Over the years, the Association had also been actively lobbying for some say by the profession with respect to the content of teacher preparation programs but had been relatively unsuccessful in achieving this objective — until 1945. At that time, with all teacher preparation programs transferred to the university, the Department of Education was no longer in a position to control teacher education.  Therefore, the government passed an order-in-council establishing the Board of Teacher Education and Certification (BTEC). This 13-member board (five representatives from the Department of Education, five from the University of Alberta, and three from the Alberta Teachers’ Association), was charged with making recommendations to the minister of education and the president of the university respecting the programme of instruction, the estimates of expenditure of the programme, appointments to the staff of the faculty and regulations governing the certification of teachers.[5]

While we can speak of organizations such as the ATA having influenced this metamorphosis over the years, it is the individuals within them who were ultimately responsible for shaping this direction and helping the ATA  achieve its objectives. Three of them stand out: John Barnett, M.E. LaZerte and H.C. Newland.[6]

Barnett was the first general secretary of the Alliance/Association and a major builder of the organization. A product of the English education system and immersed in the culture of the British National Union of Teachers, Barnett trained at Westminster College, received teacher certification and came to Canada in 1911. Chalmers writes that Barnett was “known to his colleagues first of all, not as a diplomat or a scholar or an administrator, but as a fighter. He was tough, untiring, aggressive, even belligerent; without hesitation he locked horns with individual trustees, school boards, the ASTA, civil servants, ministers of education, premiers themselves, fighting always for the ATA and the individual members thereof.”[7]


The 1925-26 class from the Calgary Normal School.
Photo: Provincial Archives of Alberta; A10318

Former faculty of education dean Herbert Coutts, himself one of the giants of Alberta education, described Barnett as one who “fought for his vision, giving prime emphasis to such welfare matters as improved salaries, adequate pensions, security of tenure, communication both with teachers in the field and with the public; and a strong professional organization composed of able, well-qualified, responsible, and adequately paid members willing and able to speak and act in concert on matters of common concern and interest. Like Newland, Barnett wanted to see teaching evolve into a profession recognized for scholarship, excellence in teaching, general competence, educational leadership, and the authority to control admission to teaching through certification”.[8]

With respect to Newland, Coutts wrote that “H.C. Newland was an educational giant….[his] influence on education and teacher education was great. He was a recognized scholar with degrees in philosophy, law and education, culminating in a PhD from the University of Chicago….Newland worked assiduously within the Alberta Teachers’ Alliance, placing the professionalization and the professional image of teachers high among his priorities. As president, first editor of the ATA Magazine and as director of the Association’s bureau of education, he stressed—maybe for the times overstressed—the professional aspects of teaching.[9]

Finally, LaZerte.  “He was a triple founder of university-based teacher education in Alberta.  He became director of the University of Alberta School of Education in 1928, principal of its College of Education in 1941 and of its Faculty of Education in 1942. But most significant of all he organized the move of all teacher education in Alberta into the University of Alberta in 1945. Under the leadership of this dynamic founder, Alberta was the first Canadian province to bring teacher preparation of all elementary and secondary-bound teachers into a university setting.”[10]

In an interview published in the ATA Magazine in 1974 on the occasion of his 90th birthday, LaZerte recalled that “Yes, teacher preparation under the university was my goal. Barnett, Newland, LaZerte —we three — spent a great deal of time together and thought much alike on many things. This was one. It was interesting to me that in Profiles of Canadian Educators we are the three who are there.  To me it is significant — it isn’t that I am there — but that it should be we three who did so much thinking together who are recognized as trying to go somewhere.” [11]

These three individuals, along with many others and the united membership of Alberta teachers have been instrumental in shaping the quality of teacher education we have today.


Dr. Julius Buski served as executive secretary of the Alberta Teachers’ Association from 1988–98 and as secretary-general of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation from 2001–06.



[1] The term “normal school” is derived from the French école Normale, an institution that provided instruction in the “norms” of school instruction.

[2] Chalmers, John. W. 1968. Teachers of the Foothills Province. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p. 97.

[3] ATA. 1921. “Alliance Manifesto.” ATA Magazine 2, no. 5 (October): 3.

[4] LaZerte was very active in the ATA and served as president of the Association in 1937–38 and 1938–39.

[5] BTEC remained extant until September 20, 1983, when it was “disestablished” by then education minister David King.

[6] Newland served as ATA president in 1920–21 and 1921–22.

[7] Chalmers, John. W. 1967. Schools of the Foothills Province. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p. 465.

[8] Coutts, H. T. 1976. Some Personalities in Alberta Teacher Education. A Monograph on Teacher Education in Alberta. Lethbridge, AB: University of Lethbridge, p. 29.

[9] Coutts, p. 29.

[10] Coutts, p. 29.

[11] Keeler, B.T., and R. Marian. 1974. “M.E. at Ninety.” ATA Magazine 55, no. 2 (November-December): p. 33.