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Student Profile: Byron Sherman

Byron Sherman, Ed.M.'08, never wanted to be a teacher. A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Sherman was always more interested in writing plays than in "babysitting adolescents."

Byron Sherman, Ed.M.'08, never wanted to be a teacher. A native of Johannesburg, South Africa, Sherman was always more interested in writing plays than in "babysitting adolescents."

But when the National School of the Arts, a prestigious full-time high school in central Johannesburg, offered him a teaching position, he was both eager and anxious. "I thought, 'How am I going to take care of all these kids and their problems?' Sherman recalls. "I thought it would get really messy, and I just wanted to write." With a background in literature, some academic editing experience, and limited exposure as a teacher of English as a foreign language, Sherman was thrust into teaching high school English without any formal training whatsoever.

Sherman's initial reservations and lack of experience teaching quickly changed. As he taught, he transformed into a concerned teacher-counselor who became involved in the lives of his students. "In short, I became exactly the teacher I thought I wouldn't be," he says.

In addition to becoming more involved with his students through activities like leadership training and mentoring,

Sherman rekindled an earlier interest in the brain, intelligences, and how people learn. As a result, he experimented with new ideas, such as hosting free seminars for students on Saturday mornings covering topics like exercise and the brain, nutrition and the brain, and studying strategies. "I also experimented a lot with writing, and the way writing can be used as a teaching tool to tap into creativity and emotional expression, and as a form of therapy."

Despite the positives, Sherman's seven and a half years as a teacher were never easy. "I earned the equivalent of about a thousand dollars a month, which in Johannesburg is nothing," he says. When his mother passed away, he was ready for a change, and it came to him via the Ed School's Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) program.

Spurred on by a friend in America, Sherman checked out the program, but was reluctant at first to apply. "I thought, 'Like hell you're going to get into Harvard, you know. Fat chance,'" he says. "[When I saw] MBE, I said, 'Oh my god, this is what I've been doing all these years!'"

He emailed Professor Kurt Fischer, explaining his interests and teaching strategies, but didn't expect a response. Within two hours, Fischer had written back encouraging Sherman to apply.

Once Sherman was accepted, the adventure truly began. "I sold my house, ended my teaching career, and said goodbye for the first time in my life to friends, my whole support system, and my country," he says.

While the transition has not been easy, Sherman is happy with the move, especially because of the people around him. "In my experience at the Ed School, virtually everyone I've met has had this incredibly compassionate and enthusiastic approach to me and to my situation," he says. And, more importantly, Sherman's own interests and experience resonate with the work of many faculty members, including Fischer's work on skill theory and Professor Paul Harris' work on emotion and the imagination.

As for the future, Sherman wants to pursue research as a doctoral student in hopes of making a contribution again to South Africa. "There's a desperate need for expertise in my country," he says. "The types of ideas that are happening here at the Graduate School of Education can really inform and assist teaching and learning over there."


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