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Students Welcome New Teacher Fellows Program

Students largely expressed positive reactions to the Harvard Teacher Fellows program, an initiative that was formally announced by the Graduate School of Education on Monday and aims to provide training and teaching experience for Harvard seniors interested in entering the teaching profession.

During their senior spring, students can enroll in the program, which will attempt to bring together best practices of existing teacher education programs, said GSE Dean James E. Ryan. Students enrolled in the program will complete coursework and undergo intensive field-based preparation before beginning to teach, and they will have the opportunity to apply to and complete a GSE master’s degree.

“I think the really innovative parts of this are: focusing on subject matter preparation, a significant field-based component, and a reduced teaching load during the first year in the classroom,” Ryan said.

He added that details on the selection process for applicants are still being discussed and will be finalized after a program director is appointed.

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The first batch of participants in the program will come from the Class of 2016. Laura K. Brennan ’16, who serves as president of Harvard Students for Education Reform and is enrolled in the Harvard Undergraduate Teacher Education Program, said she sees the program as welcomed relief to a “lack of institutional support” for students interested in education. However, given concerns about the program’s potential overlap with the UTEP, which allows College students to earn certification as secondary teachers, she said she is uncertain about applying to the program next year.

“It starts in senior spring—what does that mean for people writing a thesis?” she said, adding “as someone currently enrolled in the UTEP, it’s not clear to me...if I want to apply to the fellowship, exactly how it will adjust to the parts I’ve already completed.”

Sarah F. Cole ’16, who is pursuing a special concentration in education and American society, said she will definitely apply to the program.

“Part of the reason that teachers are underperforming right now is because we are under-preparing them and aren’t really investing in them,” she said. “This program is an example of ways in which we really can invest in our teachers and make sure they are ready for their classroom experiences.”

Blake A. McGhghy ’17, a member of the Student Labor Action Movement, said that he and other SLAM members hope the new program will avoid what they perceive as some shortcomings of Teach For America, a nationwide program that recruits college graduates to teach in low-income communities for at least two years. McGhghy, along with other members of SLAM, participated in a rally in September to demand that Harvard cut ties with TFA, and cited displacement of committed teachers as one problem caused by TFA.  

"We are very excited that Harvard is investing more resources in opportunities for people who want to do careers in public education,” he said. “However, we will continue to demand that Harvard cut ties with programs such as TFA that threaten public schools and teachers.”

However, according to Jon R. Star, a GSE professor who led the development of Harvard Teacher Fellows Program, the new program is not designed to replace other teacher education programs such as TFA.

“We are not doing this as competition with TFA at all. This is complementary, and it is another route for undergraduates to think about pursuing teaching,” he said, adding that the GSE has a “very productive relationship” with TFA.

—Staff Writer Mariel A. Klein contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff Writer Zara Zhang can be reached at zara.zhang@thecrimson.com.

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