Harvard's New Approach to America's Teacher Deficit
The school hopes reshaping how young people enter classrooms will keep them there longer.
When Kia Turner began college, she didn’t plan on a career as a public-school teacher. “I came into college thinking I was going to go into corporate law,” said 22-year-old Turner, who graduated from Harvard this spring. But after working at an after-school program, “I kind of realized I wanted to spend my time working for kids.”
So instead of heading to law school this fall, she’ll be teaching constitutional law to a group of 10th graders at Brooklyn’s Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice, one of eight recent Harvard graduates who will step into New York City classrooms as part of a teacher-preparation program launching this year.
That program, Harvard Teacher Fellows, is an attempt to reshape the way young teachers are trained to enter high-needs schools, and to avoid the pitfalls associated with asking inexperienced teachers to quickly take on the responsibilities of seasoned educators.
While there are similar teacher-preparation models around the country that offer individualized support as new teachers learn the ropes—often called residencies—the fellowship’s leaders hope it could be replicated across the country, potentially offering education schools a way to reinvent themselves as enrollment slides. “Nationwide, we’re in a teacher shortage, especially quality teachers,” said Eric Shed, the program’s director. “We really want to impact the field of teacher preparation.”
The fellowship is different from university models that include some student teaching, and programs like Teach For America (TFA), largely because fellows are eased into the profession and given significant mentorship and support as they acclimate to the classroom, according to Shed. During their first year, for instance, they are only expected to teach two or three classes each day after completing seven months of initial training and coursework. Once the training ends, fellows are expected to stay in high-needs classrooms for four to seven years.
TFA, by contrast, was launched in 1989, and offers five weeks of training and requests a two-year commitment from teachers. TFA has been criticized in the past for contributing to high teacher turnover at struggling schools, although theorganization has said its members have access to coaches and online support—and most of its alumni stay in the field.
Shed believes Harvard’s additional training and longer teaching commitment set it apart from other programs. He added that fellows are only sent to schools “where the administration [and] school culture is one that really supports and grows teachers.”
Harvard’s approach is supported by research that shows similar models may boost student outcomes and reduce teacher turnover, which can be a critical problem at Harvard Combats a Teacher Shortage By Easing Students Into the Classroom - The Atlantic: