Students to Graduate as Teachers

Seniors Trained Through Harvard's Hands-On Program

Many Harvard seniors consider graduation to mark the end of their classroom days--at least for a while.

But a small group of students sees Commencement as a transition from student to classroom teacher and, they hope, as the beginning of a long career.

This June, eight graduating seniors will not only obtain a bachelor's degree, but will also have finished the requirements needed to become middle and secondary public school teachers throughout the nation through Harvard's Undergraduate Teacher Education Program (UTEP).

"It's been the most challenging part of my college career," says Kristen L. Brunner '94. "But at the same time it's been the best experience I've had at Harvard."

Since UTEP was established at Harvard in 1985 approximately 150 students have become certified teachers after completing the program, which is run through the Graduate School of Education.

In addition to finishing all their concentration requirements for an undergraduate degree, Brunner and other students in UTEP, took two classes at the Graduate School of Education. They also spent 60 hours working with a mentor teacher at an area high school.

The students then spent 12 weeks this semester student-teaching at area high schools, assuming full teaching responsibilities for three high school classes. They prepared their own lesson plans, grading scales and weekly tests.

Brunner, a biology concentrator, taught science classes at Lexington High School. She calls UTEP "the experience of a lifetime."

Finding Time

UTEP students say one of the most challenging parts of the program is finding time to study their Harvard courses and also prepare materials and plans for classes they teach at their local high schools.

Chris M. Andre '94 says he spent about 10 hours each day preparing lesson plans and student-teaching at South Boston High School.

"It's difficult. It's like having a fulltime job and being a full-time student," Andre says.

Ramesh R. Gajraj '94 taught at Fenway High School, an urban school near Charlestown with a mainly low-income student body. He says his UTEP experience changed his perceptions about American public education. "The conditions of urban schools--30 kids inclasses, teaching 5 classes a day in less thanideal facilities--can lead to frustration anddifficulties for teachers," Gajraj says.

"They do a tremendous job."

Unlike the legal or medical fields, where jobcandidates receive years of classroom preparation,aspiring young teachers develop their ownprofessional style through observation andexperience, says Rob W. Traver, UTEP programadministrator.

UTEP stresses concepts and theories, "buttheory does not preclude practice," according toTraver.

"Teaching is an apprenticeship field," he says."You only learn how it's done by actually spendingtime in the classroom."

Most UTEP students say that student teaching isan integral aspect of their preparation. They saythe interactive nature of classroom managementhelped them see their subject material indifferent ways.

"We learned more through the interactiveclasses and the student-teaching than from any ofour other work," says Kathleen M. Turner '94.

Gajraj agrees. "Kids keep me on my toes," hesays. "I need to look at the material creativelyand think how I can get it across to them."

Life in the Classroom

The first few days in the high school classroomproved the most difficult for Brunner. She saysshe was excited about teaching, but because shewas nervous, she could not hold her students'attention.

"I was so nervous, and when I'm nervous, I tendto talk fast," Brunner says. "The kids seemed likethey didn't understand and started asking a lot ofquestions. I almost felt like I was not deservingto be a teacher."

All student-teachers met in a seminar twiceeach week to discuss their experiences. When theyhad problems like Brunner's, they often turned toTraver for advice.

"Beginning teachers are filled to the brim withexpectations and hopes. Sometimes they haveconflicts with their mentor teachers because theysee things differently," Traver says. "When thathappens, my job is to coach them, to help them getback on track."

Gajraj says Traver proved especially helpfulwith answering questions from UTEP students.

"If it weren't for him, I'd have droppedteaching a long time ago," Gajraj says. "[Traver]is knowledgeable, understanding and resourceful."

Flaws and Improvements

Most students praise UTEP, but some say theprogram has certain flaws. They cited poorcommunication between teaching faculty at theSchool of Education and the schools where theywere assigned to teach.

"I had frustrations with the class that wassupposed to prepare us for teaching," Edward E.Sorola '94 says. "I called the school and the[UTEP] office. They just kept passing the buck."

John P. Ameer, program administrator ofteaching and curriculum instructor in education,at the Graduate School of Education, says hefeels sympathy for Sorola but he does not feel hisexperience is typical for most UTEP students.

"I understand [him] feeling that way," Ameersays. "Some students have not perceived us asaccessible. I'm sorry about that."

Ameer says he encourages students with problemsto contact him in the future.

Vito Perrone, director of teacher educationprograms at the School of Education, says he andother faculty members are working to improvecommunication between faculty and students.

"We are in the process of streamlining theprogram, making it more integrated with local highschools," Perrone says. "After this transition,most problems will go away."

In the past, the program has allowed studentsto complete their classroom observation andstudent-teaching at their convenience. Somestudents would complete one of the requirementsand then wait more than one semester to finish theother.

Ameer says such delays may have caused studentsto forget some of their skills. Therefore, UTEPofficials will now encourage students to completeboth requirements in succession.

"It will make it a more active, intenseproject," Traver says. "The more [UTEP] studentsknow their kids, their school's culture and theirmentor teacher, the better the program will be."

But most students say UTEP met their goals andhelped prepare them to be successful teachers oncethey complete the program.

"UTEP really gave me an edge," says Emily J.Parks '93, a graduate of the program who nowteaches high school in Westwood, a Boston suburb."They teach new methods and often improve ontraditional classroom models. Other teachers [atWestwood] are really impressed."

Andre says UTEP has been the capstone of hiscollege career and that he encourages all Harvardstudents to consider teaching.

"It's been a roller coaster, closer to reallife than school," Andre says. "But it's reallyworth it."

Brunner also praises UTEP.

"[It] prepares you for life. When you can teachand get the respect of students, that's reallyspecial," she says. "I really feel that if you canteach, you can do anything.