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The Once and Future Teacher: Elyse Terry, TEP'15

Elyse TerryAs a teacher, clarifying her beliefs in teaching and learning was something Elyse Terry felt strongly she should do. So, she took a year away from teaching to explore her thinking in the Ed School’s Teacher Education Program (TEP). Now, as she prepares to graduate with her master’s in education, Terry is confident in her next step.

“I will be teaching! It’s as simple and as complicated as that,” she says. “This year has been one step of many towards becoming a practitioner with a just, sustainable, and coherent pedagogy. I look forward to continuing the journey.”

Ensuring that all of her students have a valuable learning experience in which they feel that their needs have been addressed is high on Terry’s priority list. “I am still working to ensure that the learning opportunities I create are meaningful, worthwhile, and truly student-centered,” she says, adding that she will always work to improve her practice.

“Elyse Terry is not only an outstanding student, but an exceptional practitioner in the field of teaching,” says Senior Lecturer Kay Merseth, faculty director of TEP. “Consistently putting the needs of her students and school community at the forefront, Elyse works to ensure each of her students receives the highest quality education they deserve. She thoughtfully plans lessons and units, but even more impressively constantly reflects on her own practice, challenging herself to be the best teacher she can possibly be.”

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for TEP, Terry answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? I could easily go on and on about almost any of the classes and professors I’ve been fortunate to encounter during my time here. As I consider the whole year, I feel particularly impacted by the wonderful professors and TFs who work with TEP students during our summer session. They pushed my thinking across so many dimensions, modeled really strong practice, and helped foster the richest discussions I had during my whole time here. I think they deserved to be recognized by name, so: Noah Rubin and Eliot Graham, Wendy Harbour and April Coughlin, Scott Seider and Liza Hansel, Marcus Walker and Pei Pei Liu, and especially Noel Reyes – thank you! They are quite an amazing group of educators, and I feel so lucky that I got to know them and work with them. I wish more HGSE students had that opportunity.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? To be honest, there were days when I lacked inspiration. I was fortunate to have supports in my life that helped refocus me, though, including my advisers and mentors, and the other members of my cohort. Mostly, though, working with students kept me going: no matter what was happening in my life, my students were in class at 7 every morning, and so I needed to be there, too, and I needed to be present. My students challenged, provoked, encouraged, and inspired me, and I am grateful to them for continuing to teach me about what a classroom can and should provide.

Finally, finding ways to take occasional breaks from the work was very important. Spending time outside, exploring the city, seeing plays and concerts, hanging out with friends – that matters, too!

The number one, biggest surprise of the last year was … The many ways that the role and persona of “teacher” are constructed and valued by the people in this school. It was sometimes encouraging, sometimes troubling, and always fascinating to pause – occasionally as the only TEP person in the room – and to listen to others talk about who teachers are and the work that teachers do, especially in the context of public schools. I really learned to sit with my discomfort during such discussions, and to reflect on the ways that practicing teachers are empowered or disempowered by the narratives we create in powerful institutions like this one.

What will you change in education and why? I’m leery of making big declarations about what I will change. I think this year has shown me that change is possible and often urgently necessary, but pushing for change without a very clear vision – not just of the product, but of the purpose and the process – can cause us to fail the students entrusted to our care. So for now, although this likely sounds obstructionist and noncommittal, I am still most interested in seeking right questions rather than right answers. And, I am interested in exploring teachers’ roles in shaping both questions and answers.

Despite your busy schedule, you always make time for … I don’t know if there is one thing I can definitively put on this list. Tea? Listening to music? My work-life balance is still pretty terrible; don’t follow my example, future HGSE students!

Read about the other recipients of this year's Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award.