Lecturer Katherine Boles
Full Team Ahead
When it comes to education, Lecturer Katherine Boles, Ed.D.'91, knows teams. She's worked in them, she's taught about them, and she's written about them. Now, more than 35 years after she first walked into a classroom as an educator, she's pushing even harder for schools to embrace teacher teams or young people will continue to flee the profession in droves, she says. In February, Boles talked with Ed. about teaming, the book she cowrote with Brandeis Lecturer Vivian Troen, and why her Ed School students make her hopeful.
By the time you left public school teaching in 1999, you realized the structure of schools was no longer working. Why?
It doesn't retain teachers. The average length of stay of young teachers coming in is under five years. It's seen by many young people as a job like the Peace Corps. They don't stay in the job very long anymore and there are good reasons for that.
The job was never designed to be long term. Teaching was designed in the 19th century. Vivian and I like to say that it was a job designed to be undertaken by women between childhood and childrearing age: a feminized profession. The job was designed based on the factory model. You had young women who didn't stay long. As soon as they married, they left. The job was designed to be flat, with no career growth. Teachers were like widgets: they were interchangeable. Eventually teachers did stick it out for 25 or 30 years. Why? When I went to college, I had three choices. I could be a nurse. I could be a teacher. And, if I didn't finish college, or even if I did, I could be a secretary. I graduated in 1968. It's totally different now. My own daughter is 25, and the idea of her being a teacher? It's not an attractive job for a long period of time for a lot of people because it's a flat career. In order to get promoted you have to leave the classroom. There's very little support: You don't get supervision, and you're never sure if you're doing a good job. I knew I was doing a good job when the more affluent parents started asking to have their children in my class.
What do you and Vivian recommend in your book, Who's Teaching Your Children?, to fix this?
We talk about how the job has to change. If we want to make this a vibrant profession, we have to provide a career ladder for teachers. There has to be a way for teachers to see that they can move up. Now being promoted means moving up to administration and that's not the same as teaching. That's a completely different job.
And the alternative is?
What we call a Millennium School, where you could start as an intern, stay on as an assistant teacher, and then as you move up the career ladder, you can become a chief instructor, supervising a team of teachers and specialists. When you start out, you wouldn't teach full time. The silly thing about teaching now is that the new teacher immediately works full time and assumes the same responsibilities as a veteran teacher. That's not how it's done if you're a lawyer or a doctor. You learn in the company of other lawyers or doctors, as opposed to being isolated.
Where do teams come in?
Teachers would work in teams where there would be structure and leadership. The lead teacher would be the chief instructor, with the principal no longer having to supervise and support 75 or 80 teachers, which was the case in my elementary school. There would be levels within teaching so that teachers could see a career ahead of them. Don't schools already use the team approach?
Teaming is popular everywhere. Unfortunately, people are teams in name only in schools. Teams decide where to go on the next field trip, as opposed to being a team that emphasizes discussions of learning. Today's teams almost never have as their goal the improvement of teaching practice. So why then are you hopeful?
We have an amazing opportunity right now. Everyone my age is retiring. The potential of shifting teaching so these younger people come into something that they are willing to stay in for longer is there.
What do you tell your Ed School students?
I adore my students. They're eager and they're risk takers. My hope, in opening the eyes of the young people here, is that they will start thinking differently about the job. They're so young and they want to do it and I just say, â€œYes!â€ And one of the ways to make it happen is through teams.
I guarantee you that these young people won't stay teaching if we don't change the job, and that would be a pity.