Victor Pereira Jr., a passionate teacher, mentor, and team leader, has joined the faculty of the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a lecturer on education and master teacher in residence (science) of the Harvard Teachers Fellows (HTF) Program.
For the past 14 years, Pereira taught, coached, mentored, and worked in many teacher-leadership roles at Excel High School in the Boston public school system. Since 2004, he has worked with HGSE’s Teacher Education Program in a variety of capacities, including as a mentor to student-teachers in their practicum placements, as a mentor to teachers in the Cambridge-Harvard Summer Academy, and a methods instructor for two core classes.
In 2012, Pereira was named the Massachusetts recipient of the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence. He earned his B.S. and M.A.T. from Boston College.
We asked him to share his thoughts about joining the HGSE faculty as HTF prepares to launch.
How do you feel about joining the HGSE community and the Harvard Teacher Fellows Program — what interests you about HTF?
I am very excited about the opportunity. Being part of this new and innovative initiative, I’ll be working with a great team of educators to develop a teacher preparation program that supports an incredibly talented pool of new teachers in the profession. As a member of the HTF team and the HGSE community, we’ll have the resources and opportunity to address the needs of preservice teachers and develop a sustainable network of teacher support.
Talk about how you interpret your role as master teacher in residence (science). What are your goals?
As I see it, my position has three distinct roles: developer, instructor, and mentor. The first role is as a member of the broader HTF team, working to develop the program. I am very enthusiastic about this role because we have the time and resources to create a unique program that develops a lasting network of support for teachers across the country. The second category is as an instructor — an experienced science teacher responsible for preparing novice science teachers to deliver engaging and effective science instruction. The third role, as a mentor, will involve identifying the needs of novice teachers and providing them with actionable feedback that helps them improve their skills and the learning of students in their classroom.
Working with new and preservice teachers is a motivating factor for me to always stay current in my profession as a science teacher, as well as to challenge myself to try new approaches to education in my own classroom. As a mentor, I feel that there is a fine balance to strike between structure and flexibility: We’re working toward a common goal, which is to prepare teachers for the many challenges of delivering effective science education to a diverse group of learners, but we also want to respect the individuality of each teacher and nurture teachers so they can discover their own style and methodology.
The goal is to design my support so that new and preservice teachers are thinking critically about how they deliver instruction, why they make certain educational decisions, and how data can be used to measure impact on students and direct future instruction.
Talk about the role of a science teacher in the life of a child — and the role of science teachers in helping to foster a scientifically literate society?
A science teacher’s role could be considered the most difficult job, or the easiest. On the one hand, teaching science is easy because it is easy to engage students and help students understand how the information they learn is applicable to their everyday lives. Science is all around us, and understanding the natural and technological world is all viewed through the lens of science.
The challenge is getting students to understand and apply the very technical vocabulary and concepts in a quickly evolving and advancing society. Our science textbooks continue to get bigger, but the school year remains the same length. Research and advancements in science continue to promote deeper understanding of the world we know, but we continue to test students on the memorization of surface-level details.
As a science teacher, I have to consider how to prepare students to be informed citizens who are critical and independent thinkers. In a society where a high percentage of new jobs are in STEM fields, I have to provide students with opportunities to develop the practical science skills that prepare them for these types of positions — that help them become creative thinkers who are able to explore solutions from different perspectives.
What do you love about teaching? And teaching science?
What I love about teaching is facilitating discovery. The opportunity to help an individual discover meaning or develop a solution to a problem is the most encouraging aspect of being a teacher. I enjoy the opportunity to build trust, to build a relationship where you can literally see a student pushing herself or himself to heights never thought possible. I enjoy the chance to motivate students to see challenges as opportunities to learn, rather than obstacles to success.
Teaching science at the high school level for the last 14 years has been the perfect mix of two things I most enjoy: science and working with young adults. Science is a collection of patterns and laws that we take for granted in our everyday lives — whose beauty we don’t really appreciate until we take the time to study it and understand it. I really enjoy seeing the learning process play out, watching as students start to develop their own questions, then design methods for answering them.