I have been doing some research on some of the women teacher trainers at the IOE in order to understand their contribution to pedagogical practice in London during the interwar years. One of the teacher trainers I have been most intrigued with is the relatively unknown Clotilde von Wyss. Von Wyss taught at the London Day Training College (which became the Institute of Education, University of London in 1932), from 1903 to 1936. The following presents a glimpse into her contributions to pedagogical practice during the early 20th century.
As was typical in the late 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, most women became qualified teachers in order to have a professional career, and many women remained unmarried in order to retain their independence. Many women teachers progressed in their careers by taking up headships and some, mainly the ‘intellectually gifted women’ from the middle classes, went into teaching in higher education. Von Wyss followed this path and trained as a teacher at Maria Grey College, Brondesbury and gained a distinction in her Cambridge Teachers’ Certificate. Prior to her appointment at the London Day Training College (LDTC), von Wyss taught at various schools including St. George’s High School in Edinburgh from 1894 to 1897. During this time, she was also an external student at the Heriot-Watt College where she took classes with the distinguished naturalist Sir Arthur Thomson.
From 1897 to 1900 she taught biology at her old school, North London Collegiate, after which she took up a lectureship at the Cambridge Training College. In 1903, she began to work on a part-time basis at the London Day Training College (LDTC) where she taught biology, hygiene, nature study, art and handicraft. She was soon appointed as a full-time member of staff supporting the Mistress of Method and Vice-Principal, Margaret Punnett (another eminent female academic), with the welfare of the women students.
Von Wyss’s pedagogical contributions are significant. The 1929 issue of the student magazine, The Londinian, reviews the annual biological exhibition which von Wyss organised and provides evidence of novel teaching methods including the use of visual illustrations, objects, story-telling and peer-learning to communicate complex concepts. Her students presented these concepts to other students using the items on display, which included a dissected cat, the digestive organs of a rabbit, and a frog which was used to detect a heartbeat. There was also a section where the students learnt about amoeba and another which focused on genetics or the ‘principles of heredity’ and the role played by chromosomes:
Miss Gascoyne … was demonstrating the principles of heredity by means of charts…[and the] story of the black gentleman cat who married a sandy lady cat was touching in the extreme. How he longed for his little boys to be tortoiseshell, something like him and his dear wife! But they never could. That distinction was confined to the girls of the family. And all because of a wretched chromosome with a hook in it!
She was a progressive educationalist and expected the trainee teachers to demonstrate aspects of child-centred learning in their teaching practice. Her written comments on her observations of student teachers’ classroom teaching practice are held in the IOE’s archive. They give a sense of what she considered to be the necessary characteristics for a teacher and ‘good’ teaching. Of utmost importance was for teachers to understand the world of the child so that they could see things from the child’s perspective. She was critical of students who derived teaching material from text-books, particularly if they imparted it in a mechanical way. She wanted the subject to come alive for the child and recommended first-hand observations.