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   THE LAB SCHOOL STORY

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LAUNCHING A NEW TRAINING SCHOOL



The ISNS directors selected Homer Horatio Seerley, who had experience as a teacher, coordinator of county normal institutes, president of the Iowa State Teachers Association, and superintendent of schools in Oskaloosa, Iowa, since 1875 as Gilchrist’s successor. Seerley, born in Indiana in 1848, had spent most of his childhood on a farm near South English, Iowa, to which his family had moved in 1854. After attending a nearby country school, he entered the preparatory department at the University of Iowa but left after a year for financial reasons. He then taught for a time in a rural school near his family farm, after which he returned to the university and received a Bachelor of Philosophy in 1873, a Bachelor of Didactics in 1875, and a Master of Arts in 1876. 


Seerley was well-equipped by temperament, training, and experience for his new position. Aware of the internal and external challenges facing him and the fledgling school that he led, he worked skillfully and diplomatically to build solidarity within the school and to cultivate positive relationships with interests across the state. 


One of the many issues confronting him was that of how to provide potential teachers with the kind of hands-on classroom training they needed. Given his considerable experience with, and interest in, public education he was aware that normal schools routinely included training schools as a part of their programs. At the same time, he understood that the Iowa State Normal School’s experiment with its model school had been problematic and controversial. Therefore, given the many and varied challenges before him, he moved cautiously, awaiting an opportune moment to address the question of re-establishing the school. 


Meanwhile, he seems to have sought to assure interested parties that future teachers were receiving something of the experiential and methodological training they needed by alternative means. The 1889-90 catalog included the following observation: 


"Not only is the student given practical exemplification of methods of teaching in every class room of the institution in every recitation but he is required to study the theory of methods under special teachers and is  given extended instruction in the principles and doctrine of method.” 


Seerley was, however, despite the catalog entry, well-aware that something more was needed and by 1890 in the fourth year of his administration he had concluded that the time had come to address directly the matter of a “training school,” a designation he considered more accurate and appropriate than that of “model school” because the latter term implied merely observation while the former suggested hands-on experience. In his report to the Board of Directors at the end of the winter term that year he proposed the re-establishment of such a school. While there are few extant details explaining the timing of his action or of the content of his proposal, archival evidence indicates that he suggested a collaboration between the Normal School and Cedar Falls in which the community would provide a building and part of the professional help to manage it, and the Normal School would contribute a supervisor. He recommended that the school be established during the coming academic year provided the legislature appropriated the necessary financial support. Although the Board took no action on this initial recommendation, Seerley did not interpret its failure to act as an absolute rejection of the idea and he continued to pursue the matter further over the next two years.

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