Colonial Education: The Master and the Apprentice

Apprenticeships and indentures were a common way for a child to gain an education during the colonial time period. When a child was 14, his parents would arrange an apprenticeship or indenture for their child. This period in the child’s life could last up to 7 years. As the apprentice or indenture is still a minor in this case, the master was legally regarded as in loco parentis. As a result, the master was legally responsible to educate the apprentice/indenture at least to the legal standard. Many parents, however, wanted more. So the parents would haggle with the master in order to include specific educational provisions in the agreement. A study by Quimby (Apprenticeships in Colonial America) found that about two-thirds of indentures included provisions for education.

When these clauses were included the master would be required to teach the apprentice much more than just his trade. The master would be required to teach morality, bookkeeping, reading, and writing. Basic math would be included in bookkeeping. If the master was unable to teach his apprentice in areas outside his trade, the apprentice would go to an evening or winter school depending on when the apprentice had more free time. These schools began opening up in the late 1600s to early 1700s.

There were also several Poor-Laws enacted in the Massachusetts Bay Colonies in this time period. Their purpose was to ensure an elementary level education for all citizens who could not get it through other means. The laws stated that boys should learn reading, writing, and cyphering. While girls should learn reading and writing.

As time went on, education began to take on more social value. This put some of the education out of the masters’ abilities. As a result, masters would pay to send their apprentice to school to become educated. However, towards the end of the colonial period, this cost was shifted back onto the apprentices’ parents.

Once the apprentice completed their apprenticeship, many were not able to successfully run their own business. A defining characteristic of those who were successful in becoming independent after they finished their apprenticeship was the education they pursued on their own. In order to help apprentices progress in their careers, Boston built an Apprentices Library.


The Education of Indentured Servants in Colonial America by Mark R. Snyder


Colonial Education

Many of America’s colonists were religious, in this case, some variation of Christian and came to escape persecution. As a result of valuing their religion, the colonists sought a way to pass on their beliefs to their children. Education was seen as an effective evangelism method because a person who could read could read the Bible. The literacy rate (for men) in the colonies was about 70% versus about 40% for Britain and 29% in France.

Massachusetts made the reason it valued education explicit in 1642 by passing a law that states, “Select men of every town, in the several precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren & neighbours, to see, first that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to indeavour to teach by themselves or others, their children & apprentices so much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, & knowledge of the Capital Lawes…..Also that all masters of families do once a week (at the least) catechize their children and servants in the grounds & principles of Religion, & if any be unable to do so much: that then at the least they procure such children or apprentices to learn some short orthodox catechism without book, that they may be able to answer unto the questions that shall be propounded to them out of such catechism by their parents or masters or any of the Select men when they shall call them to a tryall of what they have learned of this kind…….”

In a positive reading of this law, Massachusetts is saying, while it takes a village to raise a child, each family is responsible to teach their children the basics of reading and writing. They are required to either do so themselves or to find some other arrangement (school/tutor) where their child will learn. The state also required parents to catechize (educate) their children about religion (Christianity).

In order to meet the demand for education, product hawkers and education publishers cropped up. One product that developed in this time period was the hornbook. A hornbook is simply a thin piece of wood with paper on top of it. Then, the paper is covered by a thin, transparent horn (hence, hornbook). The paper would often have the alphabet (upper and lower case), common syllables, and the Lord’s Prayer included.  

In 1647, Massachusetts passed a law requiring all towns of at least 50 families establish a petty (elementary) school and that every town of 100 or more families establish a Latin (grammar) school top help prepare students for higher education (often ministry, law, or medicine).

While both boys and girls would attend the petty schools, families prioritized education for their boys. There are a myriad of reasons for this, one of the large ones would be that the boys needed to be able to manage finances and take over the farm/family business one day. The petty schools taught reading, writing, cyphering (math, I think), and religion.

Students would attend Latin schools from the ages of 10-14. After this point, if students were going to continue their education they would move on to a university. In addition to Latin, these schools also taught math, science, and the classics.


Battling Burnout: First Steps…

Summer is a wonderful necessity for teachers. It gives us time to recharge as teaching is often a mentally and emotionally draining job. I have found that there are several ways for me to refresh. Being out in nature is a great way to de-stress. It is away from people. As the wind runs through the leaves and the cicadas loudly announce my presence, my stress melts away. An added benefit of being in nature is its tiring, so I sleep better too.

Exercising my mind has also been helpful in my destressing from the school year. I have been reading free e-books on my kindle as well as college-level science books from I enjoy learning and this has also helped me to relax while still being productive. I have also begun to research teacher stress and burnout.

I have intentionally looked into this because I want to understand what I am going through. I am currently reading Carla Mckinley-Thomson’s Ph.D. dissertation, “Teacher Stress and Burnout and Principals’ Leadership Styles: A Relational Study.” This has been enlightening on numerous fronts. While I cannot change my work situation, reading about burnout has helped me to

  1. See that stress and burnout are particularly common among teachers
  2. Given me a framework and vocabulary to process my emotions around work

So, this far, I have found exercising my body and mind to be helpful in battling burnout. Another obvious help is to spend time with friends. Rebuilding and deepening relationships that suffered due to lack of time during the school year not only helps me to process the school year through conversations, but it also helps me to see that there is more to life than work.

Through this process, it has been necessary for me to be aware of how I am thinking. It is easy to get into a positive feedback loop of negativity. I have found it necessary to deliberately change my thoughts. “This policy is ridiculous and it wastes my time. It takes away from what I can do with my students.” A true thought. But, in the context of being burned out, an unhelpful one. It has been more helpful to think, “The policy is bad, but I can do X, Y, or Z to achieve admin’s desired outcome as fast as possible. Then I can spend most of my time teaching my students. I like my students.”

Thinking like this puts power back in my pocket. I am not shying from the truth of the bad policy by sticking my head in the sand but am reminding myself that I have the ability to choose, within certain limitations how to achieve what is required. The last part of the thought may sound cheesy, but I have found that it works for me. A true, purely positive statement reminds me that I do enjoy teaching.

Battling Burnout: Leadership Styles

Laissez-Faire Leadership

This form of leadership has been called passive or absent leadership by some. The hands-off approach by administration gives more decision making power to teachers because that power has been abdicated by administration. A study by Eeden, Cilliers, and Deventer in 2000 found that the laissez-faire leader, “leaves responsibility for the work to the followers and avoids setting goals and clarifying expectations, organizing priorities, becoming involved when important issues arise, taking a stand on issues and making decisions.”

A result is that teachers will self-regulate and make independent decisions. This, then often leads to low levels of achievement and increased levels of conflict within the organization because there is not a cohesive vision and therefore staff does not move forward with consistent directions or priorities. In the study I read, this style of leadership was found to have a Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient (PPMCC) of .36 in relation to teacher stress and burnout. Meaning that this leadership style increases the rate of burnout.

My thoughts are that this type of leadership is most harmful to new, and weak teachers. These teachers need more structure and support than teachers who are both experienced and effective. If you are a new or struggling teacher in this environment, find a community of educators that want to improve and join with them. This will likely either be among fellow employees who work hard to improve their craft in spite of the harmful environment this administration creates. The other place you are likely to find a good community is online. I have had good luck in joining the edutwitter community. Reading their posts and blogs have proven to be both emotionally encouraging and practically helpful. It has helped me to gain a direction in my teaching so that I am constantly working to improve, instead of staying complacent.

Transactional Leadership

Another name for this form of leadership is Contingent Reward Leadership. The leader will give feedback and advice from a recognition and rewards tradeoff perspective. These administrators evaluate, train, and correct their employees by using three behavioral approaches: contingent rewards and punishments, passive management by exception and active management by exception.

Transactional leadership can take on a clinical feel, and as such, its authority is based upon bureaucracy and the legitimacy of the organization (Emery & Barker, 2007). This can lead to unbalanced leadership when the leader uses either passive or active management by exception. Passive management by exception involves the leader overlooking various small infractions because the employee has reached a favored status for one reason or another. Whereas active management by exception involves the leader seeking for problems in the employees work to correct. In the study I read, this style of leadership was found to have a PPMCC of -.31 in relation to teacher stress and burnout. Meaning that this leadership style tends to reduce teacher stress and burnout.

My thoughts on this type of leadership are negative, to say the least (but according to the data I have seen, this can be a positive leadership style). I have found this approach to leadership to be a cold one that does not treat teachers as individuals. It treats them as cogs in a machine. The active/passive management by exception can, in practice, be based simply on whether or not administration likes you. When this is the case, a toxic work environment will follow. When a teacher who is liked by admin turns in decent work, they are fine. But when a teacher who is not liked by admin turns in the same quality of work, admin can find problems and make sure that every jot and tittle is corrected.

Transformational Leadership (Most Effective)

This is seen as the most effective leadership model. The transformational leader fosters an environment of trust and respect. As a result of the respectful and trusting environment, leaders and teachers are able to challenge and learn from each other, allowing both to improve. A transformational leader will be sensitive to the individual teacher’s needs and work to develop them into a future leader.

This type of leader motivates employees to be more efficient by effectively addressing goals, visions, and project/task outcomes in light of the “big” picture. In order to accomplish employee motivation, a transformational leader will draw from their charisma, inspiration, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Bass, 1998; Yukl, 1998). When done effectively, the admin’s passion and vision are adopted by the teacher. When admin and teachers share a common goal, communication becomes more straightforward.

All schools have goals and tasks for teachers to accomplish. A transformational administration will ensure that teachers are aware of the task/goal’s significance. They do not give out busywork or work where only admin knows the purpose. This admin will also provide strategies for teachers to efficiently and effectively accomplish the task/goal. In the study I read, this leadership style was found to have a PPMCC of -.59 in relation to teacher stress and burnout. Meaning that transformational leadership is associated with reduced levels of teacher stress and burnout.

My thoughts on this type of leadership are largely hypothetical because I have not encountered this. (To be clear, it is upper management. I have had some wonderful department heads though.) I can imagine that this type of work environment is one where teachers feel respected and safe, and as a result are free to focus on teaching and its related tasks.