History teacher Kathleen Niles sits at her desk to prepare a lesson plan. After 19 years of teaching history at Archer, Niles is leaving the school to continue her profession at Windward School.
History teacher Kathleen Niles sits at her desk to prepare a lesson plan. After 19 years of teaching history at Archer, Niles is leaving the school to continue her profession at Windward School.
Photo credit: Meredith Ho

Reflecting on 19 years: History teacher leaves behind lasting impact at Archer

A teacher. A mentor. A mother. These traits are what Archer students have described History teacher Kathleen Niles as. After 19 years of teaching history at Archer, Niles is departing from the school to continue her teaching career at Windward School.

Over her career at Archer, fellow teachers have seen her achieve personal milestones in her life, from getting married to having her two children. According to Associate Head of School Karen Pavliscak, Niles has set the foundation for Archer’s history curriculum and has left a legacy of leadership and curiosity in the subject.

Whether it’s first period on a Monday or last period on a Friday Allie Yang (’25) said Niles always has a big smile on her face. Yang, a student in Niles’ advanced study US history class and one of her mentees, describes her teaching style as a warm hug, emphasizing how comforting it is to be around her.

“I think that she’s someone who you can tell not only is very kind to her students but also cares deeply about what she’s teaching, and that passion really comes through,” Yang said. “I came into the US history class not really interested in what I was doing. My mentality was that I had already learned a lot of this in the eighth grade, but she totally changed that around because she’s able to encourage you to see things in new ways, but also kind of have that inquiry to be self-guided.”

Shortly after graduating from college, Niles began her teaching career in China where she taught English. During her time there, she was intrigued by her students’ deep and powerful connection to history, which differed from what she had experienced at their age. As she traveled around China and other parts of Asia visiting museums and historical sites, she developed a keen interest in how history is taught and perceived.

Upon returning home to the United States, Niles said she realized that she had been somewhat naive about how history was taught and discussed in her own country. This prompted her to explore these themes further in her teaching career, which sparked her curiosity about connecting past topics to the present.

“I think what I love about history is the complexity of it, and the fact that the answers aren’t really easy, and they’re not really straightforward. That’s part of why I’ve been able to really happily teach the same subject for 19 years,” Niles said. “I think the discussions that we have are different every year because it’s a different group of kids, and it’s a different generation. They bring something different to the same material, so it really is a different experience every year, and that’s why I continue to love doing it.”

Director of Upper School Samantha Hazell-O’Brien has known Niles for three years. She has seen Niles develop a pedagogical teaching style that promotes the intellectual, social and emotional growth of her students.

“She’s truly one of the most hard-working faculty members that we have here. So thinking about her method of teaching, she’s not just doing research on her own and presenting slideshows, she has to anticipate what students will ask about, [and] what students may want to connect to in the future,” Hazell-O’Brien said. “She also wants to get to know their personalities, so she’s such a hard worker to make the class feel like it’s personalized to you, and that’s hours outside of the classroom that she’s dedicating her time.”

During class discussions, Niles tends to step back and let her students guide their own conversations in order to gain critical thinking skills. Abby Borstein (’25) said she is always open to helping students grow as learners by supporting them with personalized plans.

“I was always someone who struggled to participate in history because it was always very nerve-racking for me, so she scheduled a meeting with me because I asked her to, and she created a whole plan for me to start participating more if I was comfortable with it,” Borstein said. “I told her that if she saw me being very hesitant, to go forth and call on me, and she went through with that, and that’s something that I really appreciate.”

At the beginning of each school year, Niles spent a class period discussing classroom norms to make sure everyone felt included and respected throughout the year. She told her students that everyone’s contributions were meaningful, as there were no right or wrong answers in history, and that it was important to exercise empathy.

Similar to the empathetic environment of her classroom, Yang said Niles creates a similar space for her mentees. She recalls a moment during a one-on-one mentorship check-in in October that demonstrated Niles’ deep care for her students and mentees.

“I was kind of having a bad day, academically and just feeling the pressure, so she asked me how I was doing and I said, ‘good,’ but she didn’t believe me. Then, she was like, ‘No, how are you really doing?'” Yang said. “I just think that question shows how she really cares, but I also think that her willingness to care about you isn’t just for a one-on-one check-in, it’s every interaction that she has with you that kindness flowed through.”

Many faculty and students also describe her as a humorous person who constantly makes jokes. Hazell-O’Brien recalls Niles’ performances during the faculty skit at the end of each school year, consistently bringing laughter to the community.

Niles said she will miss Archer’s close-knit community and unique culture. She recalled that while teaching the class of 2020 the race unit, students became engrossed in the texts and even initiated a history book club. In the club, the students asked Niles for additional essays and sources to read on their own time, which they congregated during lunchtime to discuss.

“So much of what I love about this school is the teeny moments, not the big momentous ones. I was just remembering the other day about this silly email that a student had sent to explain why her paper was going to be turned in late, and it was the most funny reason why she couldn’t get the paper in on time,” Niles said. “Those kinds of interactions are just what makes my time here.”

Not only does Niles provide support to her students within the classroom, but she also extends her care to their extracurricular activities. Many faculty and students have seen her dedication, noting her regular presence at Archer’s soccer games, where she cheers on athletes from the bleachers.

Niles said that the decision to leave was extremely difficult and was made due to family obligations. Next year, Niles will be teaching history at Windward School and is excited to explore the new opportunity. Her mentees were among the first people to hear about her departure after she asked them to congregate in her classroom in April to share the news.

“After we found out that she was leaving next year. Our entire mentorship started crying, and it was just so emotional. It’s funny because we’ve had a lot of teachers for multiple years at this point, but we only had her for one, and she’s already made such an impact,” Yang said. “I think her legacy would probably be showing the bond that can be created between a teacher and student, even in just a year, and even if it’s just in one class. She’s just someone who is so full of love and so full of joy that she’s able to exude that very naturally.”

Mia Vosicher (’25) takes the Advanced Study US History course and is also one of Niles’ mentees. After a year of getting to know her, not only does Vosicher consider her an exceptional teacher, but a good friend.

“She’s encapsulated the Archer campus with loyalty…I think the community is a lot stronger because of her,” Vosicher said. “She serves as a role model within herself and she shows you what a kind and engaging person is, and I think that is something that we can all learn from.”

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