Founded in 1954, SHNU was then named Shanghai Teachers Training College. In 1956 it was expanded into two colleges, Shanghai No. 1 Teachers College and Shanghai No. 2 Teachers College. Two years later, the two colleges were combined to form Shanghai Teachers College. In 1981, SHNU became the first batch of Chinese universities approved to confer master's degrees, and in 1986, SHNU won the qualifications to admit doctor's degree candidates.

From 1972 to 1978, it was known as Shanghai Normal University after combining 4 other ones including East China Normal University. In 1978 it was restored to Shanghai Teachers College, and was renamed as Shanghai Teachers University in 1984. It combined with Shanghai Teachers College of Technology in October 1994 to form a new Shanghai Teachers University, whose English version was changed into Shanghai Normal University (SHNU) on May, 2003. From September 1997 to August 2003, the university took in successively the following units as its subordinates: Shanghai Teacher Training College, Department of Human Sanitation and Health of Huangling Teacher School, Shanghai Xingzhi Art School, and Shanghai Tourism Institute. Also located in SHNU are, among others, Shanghai Teachers Training Center, Shanghai College Teachers Training Center, and the Editorial Department of Academic Abstracts of Liberal Arts of College Journals.