A brief history of teaching and teachers

Teaching History Timeline

Teaching is more than just the process of relaying information

As time goes by, the process becomes more sophisticated since society also becomes more complex and diverse. That’s why you can see different teaching methods from civilisation to civilisation. But throughout the ages, the noble cause of this act never changes. Without it, society will never progress. And to show our appreciation for education, we’ve made this post a sort of tribute – a brief history of teaching, as one might say.

What is a Supply Teacher?

A supply teacher is also sometimes called a substitute teacher. He or she takes the place of a teacher who is absent. It is casual or relief work and an increasing number of people are seeking employment as a supply teacher.

Teaching throughout the Ages 

These days, teaching is usually thought of as something set in the classroom. Students of various backgrounds have access to the information being provided by teachers, and are expected to become sufficiently familiar with all the basics. But it isn’t the case way back, particularly in the Mesopotamian civilization. For them education comes from doing chores based on age, gender, and status relative to the social hierarchy.

It’s also safe to say that teaching started by itself, and at different points and places. What do we mean by this? Although we can use the timeframe approach wherein we start all the way from 5000 BCE (in the earliest parts of the Ancient Mesopotamian civilisation's history) and move towards the modern times, we shouldn’t forget that civilizations grew independently from one another. So during the 6th century, the roots of formal education (the type of teaching we are aware of) didn’t exclusively emerge in Europe, but also in China and in regions previously held by Mesopotamia.

A common teaching method starts with letting a child know how to read and write. In fact, history is commonly divided into two categories, the prehistoric (before man learned how to write) and historic (when man already knew how to write already). In this post, we’ll divide the history of teaching in this dichotomy. We’ll start before people discovered writing. After that, we will distinguish their key points and see how it all develops into the education system and teaching techniques today. 

On Prehistoric Civilisation

The method of teaching during the Stone Age (and up to the Metal Age) is more of a combination between facilitating and demonstrating. They don’t do lectures here. People don’t use chalkboards or notebooks either – after all, writing hasn’t emerged yet. If we’re going to look at them from a modern view, they’d most likely belong to the illiterate class.
Since the economy of this age focuses on hunting, they are expected to be nomadic at the same time. So they travel from one place to another. The young men learn their hunting skills from immediate family members. They mimic actions as these older men try to throw spears with pointed stones towards large mammals.


Step into the Ancient Times

From the metal age, people shifted into more intricate ways of making ends meet through the introduction of agriculture. It’s at this point that Mesopotamia existed. The Sumerians started the writing system. They developed the fascinating art of cuneiform – a practice of making wedge-shaped marks impressed in soft clay while using cut reeds as equivalent to modern pens.  

Since this civilization started barter trading, it’s no wonder they also invented arithmetic. They already knew how to tell time, had precise weighting systems, and used number notations based on decimal places. Unlike those in previous civilisations, people here began to adopt a limited lecture type of teaching. Of course, the Sumerians and the rest of the Mesopotamia still used demonstrative and facilitative methods.  

As the Babylonians came into the scene, astronomy was introduced – so it’s no longer just about mathematics, but also of the use of natural sciences. But bear in mind that their “natural science” infuses religion. For instance, their gods and goddesses are planets and so these planets held the secret to the future. It’s more like pseudoscience and far from what our science is now, but it’s impressive and groundbreaking nonetheless. 

Ancient China, on the other hand, introduced civil service examinations. For someone to get a job in the government, it’s necessary to first pass the said test. The pen and paper-type of test allowed for the transition towards lecture-type teaching. Interestingly, at roughly the same point in history, Native Americans still relied mostly on demonstrative teaching methods. Elders trained their successors in order to preserve rites and tradition. 

Chinese text

Since Greece developed a democratic government, liberal thinking also flourished. Greeks allow speculative thinking, leading to the creation of philosophy. Although these hold polytheistic beliefs, ancient theories still serve as basis for many modern and secular philosophical views. 

Although Romans are inferior to Greeks when it came to science and literature, the former demonstrated their talent in the field of architecture. From the Pantheon to the Colosseum, it’s the majestic arches and domes that made their civilisation distinct. Of course, for these to be made possible, Romans needed a sufficiently developed education system – despite starting with just familial learning. Before the Roman Empire’s fall, they already had a tuition-based system, similar to what we have today.

Moving into the Medieval

Many would surely agree that it’s the Renaissance that created the modern man. It’s at this point, after all, that society established even more complex types of education. Schools and universities outnumbered temples. The open classrooms of agora in Greece shifted towards closed-rooms. Teaching became more compartmentalised. Education separated disciplines into their respective subjects.  

Since the rise of merchants, medieval education focused on grammar schools in order to give their words structure or form – ideal for when people try to communicate. They knew that the way words are chosen and said make a great difference when it comes to carrying out trades. 

Books already existed in this chapter of history. It’s just that books back then are way more expensive as compared to what we have now. Only the elites, those from families of aristocrats and technocrats, can afford to buy them. Although books give way to independent learning, civilization still heavily relied on previous types of teaching methods than on using textbooks to acquire knowledge.

Annunciation painting by Leonardo da Vinci

The common trend of teaching students about proper manners and right conduct relied on corporal punishment. This isn’t unique to the middle ages though, as it was something that existed in ancient civilizations. Discipline a serious matter for most. Teachers use twigs and even shaming if a student seems to stray from the norms. Those who opposed teachings of the church were slammed with accusations of heresy.

Likewise, gender roles still existed during the medieval times (and truth be told, they still exist today). For instance, during the period, men were expected to study the classics as if they’re the only ones who deserve formal education. Meanwhile, women have to master the art of entertainment through dancing and music – and yes, they also had to learn how to serve men and be ideal wives.

Post-Medieval Civilisation

With the rise of industrialisation, people began to heavily rely on technology in order to increase production. This made the global economy stable. The efficiency led to the rise of factories, plantations, and other large-scale businesses to accommodate the needs of a rising population size. As the Earth became more populated, schools also increased in number. Teachers are in-demand, as they’re the key to producing skilled workers who, in turn, will participate in meeting industrial demands. 

Illustration of school in 19th Century

Secularism also replaced religious education, resulting to universities accepting people from all walks of life – regardless of their religious affiliations. People became more mature when it comes to respecting opinion, gender, and belief. Today, different teaching methods emerged thanks to the Digital Age. We can conduct lessons and learn online. Distance learning gave way for students to juggle work and learning at the same time. Women can also participate in the academe unlike before.

What’s common in the history of teaching?

Since we’ve already covered the history of teaching methods, we’re quite familiar with the distinct qualities of each point in human history (and prehistory). So, it’s about time that we focus on what’s common when it comes to teaching throughout the ages (and no, this isn’t merely about common teaching methods):

  • Education starts as early as four to five years old, and it doesn’t stop there. Teachers perceive literacy as the primary goal for this group.   
  • Complexity of civilization results to more detailed teaching styles. This is brought forth by a shift towards more complex roles and jobs.
  • Teaching is ever developing yet inherently unchanging. The old ways of teaching still manifest even now. Methods merge, allowing the entire education system to become more complex. 
  • Teaching helps everyone achieve their role in the society. Schools assume the roles assigned to an assemblage of people, including family, church, and community. 
  • Teaching enables people to specialize in their chosen field. Given the sheer complexity of certain pursuits, self-learning isn’t always an option.
  • Teaching follows a simple-to-complex pattern when it comes to how lessons are planned and carried out. This probably won’t change given that it’s due to human limitations.
  • Teaching evolves based on the changing needs of society. This allows schools to consider the larger issues of society, making these matters deeply ingrained in lessons.

Essential to being human

After going through a brief history of teaching, we can say that our pride in being part of the education sector has only grown. Not only is education and teaching integral to progress in these modern times, but they were also crucial to the survival and growth of entire civilizations throughout history. It would surely be difficult to find another field with such an impact on humanity as whole.

Human population on globe

The future of teaching

Modernity has been accompanying today’s generation ever since the 21st century began. New technologies have been sprouting one after another, effectively making people’s lives easier and with less effort than before. Along with such advances, the whole educational system is expected to be majorly affected by this. Hence, it should quickly adapt to these modern changes to cater to students in this modern era. The technological advances are happening quite fast, and as such, the future of teaching is expected to be much more different than the ways of teaching in the 20th century.
Gadgets, like smartphones, tablets, and laptops, have become a necessity. However, nowadays, papers are still widely used in delivering lessons and making exams. As such, educational tablets may be used in the future to replace the paper used in modules and tests. It is possible that this will highly be promoted since it can actually diminish waste production as well as the need for cutting down trees.

Huge LCD monitors can be utilised, where lessons are projected, effectively replacing the need for blackboards and chalks. This way is more efficient since this can utilise more time for teaching rather than waste several minutes writing on the board. Moreover, the teachers can also be interactive to the students since applications can now be downloaded and run through the gadgets provided. These educational applications can give the students more interactive assignments, hence even at home, the students can run through the previous lessons.

The use of the internet and artificial intelligence in schools

In today’s modern society, the internet is known to contribute in reshaping the 21st century’s educational system. Most libraries are now connected to an internet service for faster browsing and researching. Hence, for younger students, subjects that will mentor on how to use several search engines, like Google, will most likely be taught. Moreover, it can also be expected in the future that people will be highly interactive in the online world, effectively communicating to people anywhere in the world. Hence, more language subjects will be mandatorily incorporated into the curriculum.

Artifical Intelligence in Education Illustration

Teachers can also make use of the internet, utilising it to give online education to students around the globe. Even with different countries and time zones, students all over the world can still access, listen and participate in the chosen topics anytime at their convenience. Moreover, the educators can also benefit from this since it can be used as a way of living. It is possible that in the future, the educators present in schools would most likely be composed of experts in their own fields. In such a way, the students can develop necessary skills adequate for the highly competitive global market.

Furthermore, the significant role of artificial intelligence in teaching is expected to rise in the future. This is because in today’s society, invention of robots has become a norm instead of a breakthrough. In fact, robots programmed for warfare already exists. AI (artificial intelligence) in teaching is a great innovation because it is versatile and can accommodate a vast extent of knowledge. Hence, it is also possible that if the educators, particularly in the fields of mathematics and science, are not well adapting to the highly modern world, then robots may eventually replace them and become the teachers of the future.

If you're a school looking for a candidate, or a candidate looking for a job, call 0300 303 3227. Alternatively, please send your brief/CV to office@flourisheducation.co.uk now and a Flourish Education consultant will be in touch asap. We can provide you the work you want, within the areas that you want, with excellent rates of pay. Please browse our Jobs page for the latest teaching and non-teaching vacancies in Primary, Secondary or SEND education across the West Midlands.

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