Lessons in mid-nineteenth-century New Brunswick teacher careerism

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University of New Brunswick


Early 19th-century teachers, often maligned in popular opinion, were largely misunderstood.The low status of teaching, fuelled by poor pay and even poorer working conditions, reinforced the negative image of teachers. Convinced that only the inept and unqualified would remain in teaching, contemporaries expected longterm careers to be the exception rather than the rule. This study of 19th-century New Brunswick teachers calls both contemporary and scholarly perceptions of teachers into question by examining the experience of teachers in the 1840s, with a particular focus on career teachers. The scholarship on teachers has either provided an occupational profile through systematic analysis of aggregate data, or has presented individual biographies of teachers at work. This study layers a qualitative approach over a quantitative evidentiary base to profile every teacher in the 1842 workforce. In that year, all teaching licences in the province were cancelled and those seeking to take advantage of the government subsidy offered to teachers were required to apply for or renew their licences. The ensuing petitions for licence yielded a list of 686 teachers, 538 men and 148 women.The 1842 renewal is used as a pivot point, from which position it was possible to examine teaching tenure, following individual career trajectories both backwards and forwards in time. Individual teachers were traced not only through the record of their teaching petitions, but also through teaching licences, payment schedules, inspection returns, censuses, Court of General Sessions records, Lieutenant-Governors’ records, school trustees’ records, newspaper reports, and Society for the Propagation of the Gospel records, among other sources. Contrary to expectations, this research reveals that nearly two-thirds, or 61.6%, would teach school for more than a decade, and one-quarter of those already had teaching careers of 10 years or more by 1842. Teachers’ petitions not only permit a reconstruction of the teaching workforce, and a means of charting their careers, but also give teachers a voice. Through their petitions, teachers expressed their ambitions and frustrations, teaching their own lessons about career experiences.