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The Beginning: Teacher Education at Portland State

PSU’s preparation of teachers traces its roots to the emergence of Vanport Extension Center (VEC) in 1946, when returning World War II veterans helped create demand for state higher education in Portland. Of special importance, the postwar baby boom sparked a demand for training more classroom teachers, and data showed that enrollment at state schools was at capacity. VEC was officially developed to serve as a temporary feeder school for the four-year institutions in the state system, but this was never a goal for its faculty and student founders who early on referred to it as a college. 

From 1946-1955 the Center evolved from the Vanport Extension Center to Portland State Extension Center. The Department of Education was established, providing a career path for a significant number of students training to be classroom teachers. In 1949-50, the Center offered the first two professional-level courses: Ed 312 Educational Psychology and Ed 354 Introduction to Education.  

Throughout these formative years, the Department of Education received strong support from Center Director Stephen Epler and Assistant Director Phil Putnam. Exceptional administrators and educators, both men earned doctoral degrees in education and had prior administrative and teaching experience in the public schools. These visionary leaders promoted student social/professional organizations at the Extension Center to complement students’ programs of study. 

Phil Putnam served as head of the Education Department in 1951-52 and with Victor N. Phelps (PSU’s first full-time teaching professor in education), were instrumental in forming the first “Future Teachers” student organization (see photos). Composed of elementary and secondary majors, the students were active both scholastically and socially, inviting guest speakers, and participating in intramural sports. Professional student organizations for aspiring teachers continued to grow throughout the 1950s, with guidance from pioneering Professors of Education Truman Cheney, Jerome Leavitt, and Morton Malter. 

Throughout this nine-year period as an extension center, all students were limited to taking primarily lower division courses. Students in education were required to transfer to other state higher education institutions with approved teacher training programs in order to earn baccalaureate degrees in education and teaching certification. But visionary and determined administrators and students led the push to solve this problem. Portland State, a four-year degree granting college, was created in 1955, and teacher education students formed the majority of the first graduating class in 1956.   

More than a half century later, Portland State College is now a university, the Department of Education has evolved to the Graduate School of Education, 14 deans have led the school, and the number of exceptional faculty and students has greatly expanded. 

The Portland State University Graduate School of Education is the largest and most comprehensive school of education in Oregon. It prepares more teachers, counselors and administrators for licensure than any other institution in the state.