Learning How to Teach

A Day in the Life: The Graduate School of Education

The Graduate School of Education is much like a used car lot--all the students converge on the campus with different kinds of mileage. Coming from varied backgrounds of jobs, colleges and homes, most students spend hours just swapping stories about their pasts.

Unlike many of Harvard's other graduate schools, a large portion of the Ed School's students have already had some other experience in the field. The 35-year-old average for the student body demonstrates this. Dennis Gaspar, for example, spent a year teaching at a small college in South Dakota before enrolling. He also has received a masters in English, studied at a religious seminary, and served in the military.

Gaspar and a bunch of his friends in the Teaching, Curriculum, and Learning Environment (TCLE) program spend odd hours in the afternoon chatting away in the Conroy Commons in the basement of Longfellow Hall. Gaspar and company say that much of the social life at the Ed School centers around the Commons. Down a narrow stairway, the windowless, smoke-filled room resembles a small cafe with a myriad of small tables surrounding a petite cafeteria.

Throughout the day, students meander in for a quick cup of coffee and a cigarette or for a casual talk with their classmates. Students say that without the Commons, there would be no way for students to get to know each other outside the classroom; because most Ed School students live off-campus with their families and study at home, along with holding part-or full-time jobs, the Commons enables them to gossip about their classes, to share previous experiences, or simply to study together in a convenient locale outside of the library.

Most of Gaspar's classes meet in the afternoons, so he doesn't usually appear at the Commons until lunchtime. Gaspar tells his colleagues about working at the first fully accredited college run by an Indian reservation. Richard Schmertzing and David Dockterman, two other first-year TCLE students, discuss a grant they are trying to get for an independent project about computer use at a group of computer summer camps. A little later they discuss a faculty-student forum held the week before. They tell how various students complained about the lack of contact between students and faculty and how the professors seemed receptive to their advice.

Gaspar and his friends are completing their first year along with 22 others in the TCLE program, the smallest of the Ed School's curriculum divisions. The two other curricular programs at the school are the Administration. Planning and Social Policy program, which provides more of an administrative approach to education; and the Human Development, Reading and Counseling program, which focuses more on developing programs to aid student advancement in the schooling. Gaspar takes the normal TCLE courseload of four courses, which he says centers on qualitative research and actual classroom interaction. Two of Gaspar's courses involve adult development and ethnography.

The adult development course meets in a two-hour lecture every Friday afternoon with a one-hour section during the week. Harry M. Lasker, lecturer on Education, faces the unusually large class--more than 70 students who scrawl down notes from his casually delivered lecture. The students frequently interrupt Lesser's presentation with questions and Lesser leaves time at the end of the two hours to field any other questions the students might have.

In this lecture Lesser discusses different transitions in human psychological development focusing on the adolescent years. Lesser compares this stage of human development to "the Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland who asks, "I'm late, I'm late for a very important date'--moving on away from the present."

Another course--which Gaspar is not taking this semester--is a lab class called, "Education and Community", which meets Monday afternoons from 2 to 4 p.m. and is taught by Donald W. Oliver, professor of Education and chairman of the TCLE program.

The students sit in a circle discussing various communities that have "failed," focusing this time on Synonam--which started off as an alcoholic, drug rehabilitation community that slowly became more oppressive. The student discuss this community and bring in their own experiences with similar types of communities that-try to coalesce around a common theme or need. The discussion is lively, as the students gesticulate as they share their experiences and their opinions. One student describes his time at Synonam and various other communities. He tells how he has lived in a special community for the past 11 years and how the people and the teacher have helped him.

Many students like Gaspar take their courses pass/fail so that they can focus on learning the material without grade pressure. Gaspar says he hopes to finish his thesis in three years--the average amount of time a doctoral candidate stays at the Ed School.

At the end of the afternoon, Gaspar and his friends go their separate ways, as Gaspar catches the bus back to Watertown, where he and his wife and two young children live. Gaspar says in parting, "You know, what is most valuable about the Ed School is the willingness of Ed School students to share ideas and their wideness of experience from all over."