Teacher Certification in Early North Carolina

NC Minute Masthead

Most of the “private schools” before the American Revolution gave very little attention to a persons qualification in Reading, Writing and Arithmetic as a school teacher. Most of the qualifications centered around the persons mental, moral and religious characteristics. In fact most of the teaching was done by ministers of the church.

By 1839 when the first common schools were established, nothing was said about the qualifications of teachers. It was never in any material in hiring a teacher. In 1841 it was required of the school committee in each county “to contract with suitable teachers after due regard to their moral character.” It wasn’t until 1854 that the Superintendent of Public Instruction Calvin Wiley had the local or county committees to examine them on reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, grammar and geography. A qualified teachers certificate was graded on a one to five grade of scholarship; one being the highest and five the lowest.

The story is told at around 1905 a man applied for a teaching position in an eastern North Carolina county. The Superintendent gave the applicant the exam which was required. Included in the exam was the spelling part. One of the words that he was to spell was “socks.” According to the superintendent the word was spelled wrong, for which he said, “any man that cannot spell socks should not teach school.” The teacher thought he had spelled the word correctly and protested, “if S-O-X don’t spell socks, how do you spell it?” The fact that the superintendent could not give the man an answer, he gave him his certificate to teach.