Mary Elizabeth Johnson started college as an English major. As she began to think about a career path, she realized she wanted to be able to share her love of literature with young people.
“I think about the books that I read when I was, eight, nine, ten, and I still think about them. I think they really shaped who I am,” she says. “I could picture myself spending the rest of my life talking about it in schools with kids every day.”
Johnson is pursuing her Master’s in Education through the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Teaching and Teacher Leadership program. Started in October 2021, the TTL program is in many ways a remodeling of the Harvard Teacher Fellows program that ended the same month — though unlike HTF, it is open to applicants beyond Harvard College graduates.
One of five HGSE master’s tracks, TTL offers a Teaching Licensure Strand, which trains recent college graduates seeking teacher certification, and a Teacher Leadership Strand, designed for teaching professionals looking to transition to leadership roles. Within the licensure strand, students can pursue an internship model, where they work alongside a more experienced teacher, or a residency model, where they work alone as part-time teachers.
The program is distinct for its mixed pool of students; those in the licensure strand are mentored by others in the leadership strand. “One of the strengths of having these two groups together is that they can really feed on each other,” says HGSE professor Heather C. Hill, faculty co-chair of TTL. “The mix of experience and novice is really pretty awesome.”
Jenn O’Brien ’22, a current TTL student, says she received invaluable feedback from her mentor in the leadership strand while teaching in a summer school. “She just asked me questions about my goals as an educator, we set goals, and then she observed me and took really intentional notes on what I asked her and told her that I was working on,” O’Brien says.
TTL student Sylvia Zhang, who is currently working at a school in South Boston, says that the teacher she works with provides a critical source of mentorship outside of the mentors affiliated with TTL. “She would give me more practical advice and then help me to combine the knowledge I learned in class to apply that in real life to my students,” she says.
According to O’Brien, the strong sense of community among TTL’s cohort sets it apart from other licensure programs. “We just fell into really strong relationships really quickly because I think we all came to teaching for different but similar reasons and share some same values around what education means,” she says.
While Zhang and O’Brien participate in the internship model, Johnson chose the residency model, which she says provides a level of independence she wasn’t afforded while student-teaching as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. “The way that they talked about the residency, where you are responsible for a classroom starting September 1, sounded very exciting to me,” she says.
For TTL student Tim George, the most valuable aspect of TTL’s courses is the opportunity to work on improvising lessons and presenting them for feedback to his peers. “I think it’s those times when we’re vulnerable in front of our peers, who are amazing people and capable and supportive, really trying to push ourselves to create a new type of lesson plan,” he says. “Having the ability to do that pretty much on a weekly basis, I think, is what the TTL program is.”
From the licensure strand to the extensive financial aid provided to students entering a notoriously underpaid profession, TTL preserves many aspects of HTF, which provided teaching licensure and experience with the option of a subsidized master’s degree to Harvard College graduates.
“In many respects, the Harvard Teacher Fellows program continues, but it now just expands,” says HGSE Dean Bridget Long. “There’s certainly a desire to make sure there’s a pathway for Harvard College students, but also to be welcoming to other students.”
pointing to TTL’s applicant pool being open to non-Harvard College students.
But the handover between the two programs attracted some criticism from students at the time, who worried that its abruptness and minimal advertising would result in fewer applicants.
HTF was not the only path to teaching for Harvard College students that ended last year. The University also canceled the Undergraduate Teacher Education Program, which allowed undergraduates to become certified teachers during their four-year degree, directing interested students toward TTL instead. At the time, some students criticized UTEP’s cancellation for removing a direct path for students interested in teaching, one of the few that existed at the undergraduate level.
While the Harvard Graduate School of Education is ranked one of the best in the nation, Harvard offers few opportunities to engage with education studies at the undergraduate level. Though the College has an Education Studies secondary field, founded in 2018, it has no education concentration. With the cancellation of HTF and UTEP, there is no direct pathway for students at the College to earn a teaching certification.
O’Brien, who pursued the Education Studies Secondary, says that studying education can feel difficult amid a student body that undervalues teaching as a profession. “I think it is kind of countercultural to be thinking about a career in public education,” she says.
Johnson struggles with the separation she feels from the rest of Harvard University as a TTL student at HGSE. “It doesn’t feel as cool sometimes. You know, it’s Harvard, but it’s like Harvard-lite.”
Despite this culture surrounding the teaching profession, George maintains the value of a career in education. “While [teaching] represents a small fraction of the chosen profession within their peer group, it is immensely rewarding,” he says. “I think it covers a lot of the bases of happiness and professional growth and making a big difference immediately after college.”