In this post, we will look at the Prussian education system during the 19th century. This system has been praised by many and influenced the development of the American educational system. In particular, we will look at the schools and the requirements for becoming a teacher in this historical system.
Prussian education begins for many with the Common Schools. These schools were designed for the masses and cover what we would consider to be K-8 today. These schools lasted six days a week for 42 weeks a year. Generally, students would be in class anywhere from 16-28 hours per week. Teachers of course work 28 hours a week.
Attendance was compulsory for children age 6-14. Parents could face disciplinary action if they did not send their children to schools. Generally, there were few problems or resistance to compliance
Completion of Common School studies did not automatically lead to going to high schools. Often, if a student wanted to continue to study he would study at continuation schools. These schools were offered on Sundays and during the evenings. For most lower-class individuals this was the only way to continue studying.
Secondary school had three types of schools these are the gymnasium, reallgymnasium, and the oberrealschule. All three of these schools prepared for university. The difference between these three types of schools is the amount of focus each school had on classical studies. The gymnasium was the most heavily focused on the classics, followed by the realgymnasium, and the oberealschule was the most practical.
If a student from the common schools had a goal of attending university, he had to enroll at a secondary school before he was 10 years old. This indicates that it was difficult for late bloomers to have academic success at university.
For those who go to university, those who choose to become teachers typically do not teach at the common schools. Generally, they teach at secondary school, private school, or work as tutors. Usually, only former common school students would teach at common schools. Whether this is right or wrong is open to debate but this was the reality of the time.
Becoming a teacher required that a student’s teacher and the local administrator notice academic talent in a child. If the administrator believes the child can be a teacher, he will next contact the parents and see if they agree to have the child become a teacher. If the parents agreed the child is then sent to a preparatory school for about 3 years (age 14 – 17).
Upon completing preparatory school, the student goes to a normal school (teacher college). This training lasted for 3 years. Two of the years are book work and the last year is what we would call a student internship today. After completing normal school, the student goes back to their childhood school and begin their first teaching position.
Once they get their first job, the student is now a probationary teacher for 3 years. When the 3 years are over, the student then has to pass a final examination that covers questions about pedagogy. Only after passing this exam does the student become a tenured teacher, which essentially means having a job for life. Not bad considering many would be less than 25 years old.
The Prussian system was a major component of the development and growth of Germany during the 19th century. There was criticism of how it perpetuated the class structure through the differences found in the common vs secondary schools. However, all systems have their inherent strengths and weaknesses and there is no exception in the case of the Prussian educational approach.