Excellent teaching is at the historic heart of William & Mary. The original charter of 1693 called for creation of a “certain place of study” for the youth of Virginia to be “educated in good letters and manners.” To fulfill this mission in the colonial era, William & Mary provided a flourishing grammar school along with its undergraduate and advanced courses of study. Teaching and learning at all levels were interdependent, as the first Master of the Grammar School also served as Professor of Humanities. Similarly, Hugh Jones, legendary professor of mathematics and philosophy, gained fame for pioneering instructional methods for teaching English grammar. And in the 1690s William & Mary rolls included a teacher from Maryland who sought assistance to improve his professional skills. This was the first example of “student teaching” in America.
William & Mary’s involvement in teaching from primary through advanced studies is well illustrated by the education of Thomas Jefferson. His first school master, James Maury, was a William & Mary alumnus; later, as an undergraduate, Jefferson worked closely with mathematics professor William Small, of whose teaching he fondly recalled as, “It was my great good fortune and what probably fixed the destinies of my life. …” Finally, Jefferson’s memoirs attest to the inspired, influential teaching of Professor George Wythe, with whom he read law.
William & Mary enhanced its formal role in the preparation of future educators starting in 1888 when the Virginia General Assembly appropriated substantial annual grants for the express purpose of funding William & Mary to combine liberal education with certification of teachers for the Commonwealth’s emerging public school system. This support was reaffirmed in 1906 when the Commonwealth stated that one of its primary objectives in assuming responsibility for William & Mary as a state institution was to insure a source of well-educated and trained public school teachers throughout Virginia. In subsequent decades, William & Mary’s claim to excellence in professional education escalated due to innovations in two areas: its programs for educating school principals and superintendents; and the founding of the Matthew Whaley School, one of the most influential laboratory schools in the nation.
The School of Education was created as a distinct entity within the academic structure in 1961. During ensuing years, the traditional commitment to undergraduate education for teachers has been supplemented by a wide range of graduate degree programs, including conferral of the first doctoral degree in Education in 1972. In the past decade the School of Education has become an institutional leader in advanced studies, as it has accounted for nearly a third of the master’s degrees and over half of the doctoral degrees awarded at William & Mary each year. Today, the School of Education continues to take pride in its fusion of liberal education and professional studies at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.