Teaching, systematic presentation of facts, ideas, skills, and techniques to students. Although human beings have survived and evolved as a species because of their capacity to share knowledge, teaching as a profession did not emerge until relatively recently. The societies of the ancient world that made substantial advances in knowledge and government, however, were the ones in which specially designated people assumed responsibility for the education of the young.


In ancient India, China, Egypt, and Judaea, teaching was often carried out by a priest or prophet, and the teacher accordingly enjoyed prestige and privilege. Among the Jews, children were admonished to honour their teachers even more than their parents because the teacher was considered the guide to salvation.

The ancient Greeks, whose love for learning is evident in their art, politics, and philosophy, were quick to see the special value in educating children. Wealthy Greeks added teachers to their households; these teachers were often slaves from conquered states. Later, when the Roman Empire was at its height, its citizens also followed the practice of having teacher-slaves, usually Greeks, attached to their households.

By the Middle Ages, the Church had taken over the responsibility for teaching, which was carried on in monasteries or in learning centres that gradually evolved into such great universities as those of Paris and Bologna. In North America, schools were an important part of the development of the new continent. In 1647 the colony of Massachusetts passed a law requiring towns of 50 or more families to establish an elementary school and those with 100 or more families to establish Latin grammar schools for secondary-level education. In the 17th and 18th centuries, renewed interest arose in the education of children, and knowledge about teaching methods increased. The French cleric and educator St John Baptist de la Salle and later the Swiss educational reformer Johann Pestalozzi founded model schools for young people but also trained other teachers in their theories and methods.


The teaching profession nowadays varies from country to country. In some nations, religious authorities play an important part in schooling. For example, in the Republic of Ireland and Spain the Roman Catholic Church is active in all aspects of education, including teacher training. There has been a growing awareness in many countries of the connections between stable government, economic growth, and effective education. Teaching, like medicine, has become an international activity with practical and theoretical knowledge freely exchanged across borders.

See also Education, History of; Teacher Training.