Teachers in training at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have had direct classroom exposure for decades. This year, challenges like teacher shortages and the return from the Covid-19 pandemic mean local schools could use the help.
HGSE’s Teaching and Teacher Leadership Master’s Program, now in its second year, offers a teaching and leading strand, which trains already-licensed teachers, and a teaching licensure strand.
Though seven students are enrolled in the teaching and leading strand this year, more than 60 are in the teaching licensure strand, which places students in either a part-time internship or a full-time residency at a K-12 partner school in the Boston area.
This school year, the Cambridge Education Association has raised concerns about a “huge” teacher shortage amid union contract negotiations, which reached a tentative agreement Thursday.
Alex Tran, a teaching licensure student in the science teacher cohort, arrived on campus expecting to be an intern. The position would come with a semester of mentorship from a teacher, and, he said, “a much slower ramp-up” to leading his own classroom.
But once he arrived at his partner school, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, he was informed that he would need to fill a full-time position due to the teacher shortage.
“I’m not the only person that that happened to,” Tran added, noting that several other students in the TTL science teacher cohort were switched into residencies due to the shortage.
Teaching licensure intern Cristina P. Gutierrez, who is teaching English at Somerville High School, said students’ social and academic development was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“These kids didn’t know how to form community, they didn’t know how to build those bridges between each other, and then ultimately build those bridges between themselves and their education,” Gutierrez added.
Tran also said his students also have difficulty with fundamental concepts or active engagement in the classroom following the pandemic.
“Because of Covid, kids’ knowledge — it’s like Swiss cheese, almost,” Tran said. “They kind of got pushed up without fully learning foundational things.”
He said he has seen his students on TikTok or even playing video games like Clash Royale in class.
“You can’t compete with those things, like social media and everything,” Tran said. “It’s gotten a lot tougher to get their attention.”
HGSE welcomed the first cohort of TTL students in 2022, following the cancellation of the Harvard Teacher Fellows and Undergraduate Teacher Education Programs, which granted teacher licenses to Harvard College graduates.
TTL faculty co-director Victor M. Pereira said the program hopes to combat “misconceptions” about teaching as a profession.
“That’s where I think our biggest challenge is,” Pereira added. “The societal perspective of, ‘It’s just not a lucrative position’ or ‘It’s not a respected position.’”
He said teaching is “the most important thing that you can do with your talents and with your education.”
Despite the challenges of teaching, several students said enrolling in TTL has inspired them to continue in the field.
Though Gutierrez was previously interested in pursuing public policy, she said, “my time in the program has shifted me away from thinking, ‘Oh, teaching is just a stepping stone.’”
“Even if I did policy, I would probably still try to find a way to teach somehow,” Gutierrez added.
Clari Heredia, a student in TTL’s leadership strand, also said she would like to continue teaching alongside other professional pursuits.
“I think it gives you a reality, that you’re not talking about what might happen in a classroom and you’re actually in the classroom experiencing it,” Heredia said.