From its humble origins as a state normal school in the final days of the Civil War to its well-established status as the state’s educational leader to its emerging development as a national and international leader, Indiana State continues to extend its reputation.
For more than five decades, teachers-in-training walked across 7th Street to log field experience time in the three-story brick building long known as the University School. In slightly frigid classrooms, college students acquired their first insight into the adolescent mind and began what would be career-long journeys toward mastering their craft. From its inception in the late 1930s to its eventual closing in the early ’90s, the “lab school” contributed to a program, which cemented Indiana State’s reputation as the place to be to become one of the state’s best educators.
More than 20 years since the last classes were held in the old building, the former lab school (long cleaned of its mothballs and reopened as University Hall, home of the Bayh College of Education) now stands not only as a practical and beautiful facility for the university’s founding college but also as a symbol of how the old evolves into the new and how dated training methods give way to a program, which stands as a state, national and world leader in education.
“Indiana State University’s legacy as a ‘teachers college’ began in 1865 when the Indiana State legislature created the State Normal School in Terre Haute,” said Brad Balch, Ph.D. ’98, dean emeritus in the department of educational leadership. “The mission then was simple — build an institution to prepare teachers to educate students in the state and beyond. The need was particularly acute in rural areas. Indiana recognized that a high school diploma was not a sufficient threshold for teacher certification, and the Normal School was an important step towards enhanced teacher preparation.”
In those early years, as Connor Prairie historian Timothy Crumrin, ’87, GR ’89, notes, many early students who attended the Normal School often left before completing the full two years course of study, landed licenses to teach nonetheless and went to work for their hometown (often rural) schools.
Eventually, as Balch explained, “increasing enrollments and the demand for a four-year degree” spurred changes in teacher preparation, and the Normal School “gave way to the Teacher’s College.”
During the ensuing decades, as the need for increased post-secondary education grew as a way to progress socially and economically, the State Teacher’s College expanded its reach, and, fully a century after its founding, the tiny little Normal School with only 21 students in its first class rebranded itself as a university, which today offers nearly a hundred majors. Despite this evolution and despite the fact that education and teacher training is no longer the largest segment of the student body, Indiana State’s past anchors its modern-day vision.
“I believe Indiana State’s roots as a Normal School/Teacher’s College is very important,” said Della Thacker, ’82, GR ’85, associate professor in the college’s department of curriculum, instruction and media technology. “If you visit University Hall and take a walk through the halls, where it all began, you will notice our wall of history in which we are extremely proud.”
This appreciation for the past is not an attitude exclusively held by those working in the College of Education, however. Indiana State President Dan Bradley echoes Thacker’s sentiments: “Preparing those who lead and educate our youth remains an important component of what Indiana State does today.”
And it’s what Indiana State is doing today, in response to the changes in teacher preparation passed down by the Indiana General Assembly (as well as many other state legislatures around the Midwest and the nation), which have arguably placed Indiana State ahead of the curve. After experiencing slumping enrollment like other schools across the country, Indiana State, as Bobbie Jo Monahan, ’88, GR ’00, Ph.D. ’09, says, has “now … doubled that.” Part of the success behind the quick response to those state mandates is an attitude best described by College of Education Dean Kandi Hill-Clarke.
“We view these purposeful and relevant changes as opportunities for us to grow, rethink and redesign as needed,” Hill-Clarke said.
A large component of that redesign is the implementation of the Teachers of Tomorrow Advancing Learning Program. The fundamental mission behind the program has best evidenced itself in the exponential growth of on-the-job time current education students spend out in the field.
“Our students, the elementary and special ed majors, have been in the school setting for an entire year from bell to bell. They’ve seen (and) lived it from day to day. They get to see the full continuum,” said Beth Whitaker, elementary education professor and director of the Faculty Center for Teaching Excellence.
Much like students training to lead elementary classrooms, Indiana State students preparing for middle school and secondary work have also seen dramatic changes.
“Our students have field experiences within their first education class and throughout the entire teacher education program. They complete two five- week, every day immersive experiences, each in a middle school and then in a high school before they complete a 16-week student teaching experience, where they teach eight weeks in a middle school and eight weeks in a high school,” Thacker said. “This experience allows our students an edge over other universities since their experiences are immersive and rooted in methodology and pedagogy.”
Running central to the College of Education’s escalation of teacher training practices is this idea of immersion: the aggressive mixing of theoretical discussions in on-campus sessions with the practical application of those theories in rooms full of school children.
“Our professors focus on the why and the how,” Hill-Clarke added, noting that while understanding the why is a critical first-step in teacher development, “it’s the how piece that helps put
it all together.” “We work very hard to connect theory and practice,” Hill-Clarke said. “You need to understand the why theoretically, but then you have to move beyond to the how. How do you do that? What does this look like in the classroom?”
Besides the expanded time in local schools and added emphasis, as Whitaker puts it, on “(coming) back and reflect(ing) on our experiences,” Sycamores preparing
for careers at every level have also been encouraged to embrace social media as both a constructive outlet and a collaboration tool for ideas and strategies.
“There are thousands of teachers on Twitter sharing great ideas,” Whitaker said. “We’re teaching them how to promote what they’re doing, but we’re also teaching them how to learn.”
Furthermore, as both Whitaker and Hill-Clarke point out, proper use of new tech- nology, such as Twitter, helps Indiana State students establish a professional digital footprint, increasing not only their professional networking skills, but also eventually adding to their chances of landing the first job of their career.
Unlike the student-teaching experience of decades before, the net effect of these changes produces something more than the brief, 10-week student-teaching period, which once marked a graduate’s transition from the college classroom to his own seat behind the big desk. Today, what happens runs much deeper.
Today, future educators spend a full semester before actually student-teaching working from “bell-to-bell, learning about all that goes on in the school building, becoming a part of that school’s culture,” Hill-Clarke said.
The results of Indiana State’s contribution to the public school landscape will always be difficult to measure objectively, but if anecdotal evidence has any value, Terry McDaniel, ’73, GR ’77, Ph.D. ’83, sums it up: “We get comments from superintendents who say we send them the best teachers.”
And this contribution is found not just in Indiana — or the Midwest, for the matter. After one of McDaniel’s former students completed Indiana State’s doctoral program in school administration, the now professor at the University of Kuwait told him his experience in Terre Haute was having an impact on the other side of the globe.
“He told me, ‘You completely changed the way I think about teaching,’” McDaniel said enthusiastically. By emphasizing Indiana State’s role in developing future educational leaders, who then impart what they learn here to their charges in the far corners of the earth, Indiana State’s educational leadership program is having an influence on students around the world.
“We’ve had a tre mendous impact on the Wabash Valley, a BIG impact on the Midwest,” McDaniel added, “especially in Illinois, where our doctoral program is really reaching out.” But the results of Indiana State’s long- standing work here at home has not been lost on those pioneering educational growth among the emerging middle class in parts of the world not long ago considered third world.
“I was approached by a Ph.D. student from India,” McDaniel said, “who wanted to bring our leadership training program over there.”
From its humble origins as a state normal school in the final days of the Civil War to its well-established status as the state’s educational leader to its emerging development as a national and international leader, Indiana State continues to extend its brand as an educational leader.
Since those first 21 students signed on almost 150 years ago, Indiana State has been doing exactly that, and regardless how the future climate of education develops, if the people of the Bayh College of Education have their way, Indiana State will continue to send out the very best teachers for the next 150 as well.