75 Years Young

The School of Education celebrates 75 years of teacher education

When you graph the typical performance of a publicly traded stock, the curve you get usually is marked by ups and downs, of spiking peaks and sagging valleys.

Now picture a different curve, one based on 75 years of teacher education programs at St. Thomas. When you graph this curve, you get a very different result with a solid, consistently rising baseline. This baseline begins to rise significantly about halfway across the chart. And finally, in the last portion of the graph, the curve turns sharply upward and heads right off the chart.

If you can picture this graph, you’re seeing how enrollment, satisfaction and interest in School of Education programs at St. Thomas have grown. Now settled into its home in Opus Hall, opened on the Minneapolis campus in 1999, the School of Education programs continue to develop.

What has been the driving force behind the growth of teacher education programs at St. Thomas? “A commitment to community and to the mission of St. Thomas as an urban university,” according to Dr. Miriam Williams, dean of the School of Education.

More on that later.

Let’s go back to 1917 and capture a glimpse of the early years of teacher education programs at St. Thomas.

It’s difficult to paint an accurate picture of how the department was comprised more than three-quarters of a century ago. Most of the early information is anecdotal, but we know that secondary education teacher training was the primary focus of the department, specifically in science and mathematics.

Several prominent personalities helped shape progressive teacher education programs from the very beginning.

In 1917, a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota began his career teaching at St. Thomas Military Academy. Timothy O’Keefe ended up spending his entire 50-plus year career at St. Thomas in teacher ed-ucation. He officially became part of the education faculty in 1922, and by 1933 O’Keefe was chair of the department, a position he held for 26 years. As an interesting side note, O’Keefe was the founder and original adviser of the St. Thomas undergraduate All College Council (ACC), which continues at St. Thomas today.

Although we can’t quote O’Keefe, an excerpt from his obituary gives us a flavor of the values he brought to teacher education programs: “Mr. O’Keefe was the perennial champion of youth, an optimist regarding the behavior of young people, and an advocate of developing the whole human being.”

During the 1930s, 1940s and into the 1950s, O’Keefe led a department that primarily prepared young men to be secondary education teachers. Then in the early 1950s, something really different happened. The department began offering master’s programs in educational administration. Not only were these the first master’s programs at St. Thomas, they also were the first coeducational programs, predating by more than 25 years the official reclassification of St. Thomas as a coeducational institution.

Dr. James Byrne replaced O’Keefe in 1959, when O’Keefe returned to the classroom. The department began expanding its teacher education options. School of Education faculty member Dr. Robert Brown was hired as a faculty member in 1961, and is still an active professor in the teacher education area and in the master’s and doctoral programs in educational leadership. Many people know Brown as an educator, a politician and a founding father of what exists as the School of Education today. Brown also served as a state senator, representing the Highland Park area of St. Paul from 1966 to 1976.

A good example of the budding entrepreneurship in the Education Department during the 1950s and 1960s was reflected in Brown’s comment, “St. Thomas was known as ‘the place’ for teachers and school administrators to continue their education and receive master’s degrees.” One reason for this, according to Brown, was that St. Thomas offered free parking and students could park right outside of Aquinas Hall on weekends and take classes. “Of course,” Brown reflected, “what they got in addition to the parking convenience was a top-notch educational experience.” Education programs were housed in Aquinas Hall on the second and third floors until they moved to Christ Child Hall in 1979.

A core value of teacher education programs that was apparent during the O’Keefe years and continues today is a commitment to having students not only become licensed in teaching, but also to become specialists in certain areas. In essence, undergraduate education majors take teaching methodology courses and also pursue a second major in a related field, such as mathematics or English.

While Brown was on staff, many changes occurred that would eventually result in an explosion of master’s programs; a move from Aquinas to Christ Child; the addition of the first of several doctoral programs; and ultimately the designation of education programs as part of a School of Education model. (Previously, the programs had been in a combined school with psychology and social work.)

The dean who oversaw several of these significant changes from 1975 through 1982 was Dr. William Salesses – better referred to by students as “Dr. Will.” Salesses is a professor emeritus at St. Thomas and is still active in teaching and supervising student teachers in the field.

Salesses pushed for the separation of education from the psychology and social work departments, and for a combined undergraduate and graduate education program that later came to be called the School of Education. This took place as St. Thomas was becoming coeducational and beginning work that would redefine St. Thomas as a university.

Salesses is credited with taking the education programs to a national level. “My main concern was outreach. When you got a degree from St. Thomas, it may have been a traditional degree, but it may have come through a non-traditional delivery system,” commented Salesses. “We didn’t realize how revolutionary this was around the country.”

The 1980s brought increased enrollment and Dr. Thomas McCarver, current director of education for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who took over as dean of education programs. When McCarver began, enrollment in the school was 425 students. This enrollment quickly burgeoned to more than 1,600. This explosive growth is what really set the School of Education on a steep and continual climb up the performance curve. McCarver commented, “This was a very active period for the School of Education. All programs were developed by faculty based on their own ideas.” He added, “The faculty had a true understanding of what people in practice needed.”

Two other entrepreneurial events that took place during this time were the development and implementation of an undergraduate elementary teacher education program, and the addition of the first doctoral program in education. Before 1989, St. Thomas students who wanted to major in elementary education had to take their coursework at the College of St. Catherine.

Driven by market factors and a desire to have teacher education programs that covered the full grade spectrum (kindergarten through 12), St. Thomas officially began offering its own elementary education program in 1989. Dr. Trudi Taylor, who remains a full-time faculty member, led this new program. Taylor also founded the Collabora-tive Urban Educator program at St. Thomas, another innovation in which people of color who have a bachelor’s degree enroll for 12 to 18 months to receive their teaching license.

Where is the School of Education headed? Dean Miriam Williams has been in the driver’s seat for this increasingly complex program for two years.

“My goal is to develop even deeper partnerships with our community,” Williams said, “Our partnerships so far have focused on preparing teaching and administrative professionals.” She continued, “In this next stage, the School of Education seeks to be engaged in collaborative, field-based projects that address the complex issues of effectively educating an in-creasingly diverse student body. With our partners, we wish to engage in activities leading to generation of new knowledge and improved practice at both the school and university level.” Williams finished by saying, “Today in education, there are many more questions than answers. The School of Education seeks to partner with our school districts and communities to help address these questions.”