For Lecturer Beth Simpson, Ed.M.’10, it has been evident for a while that Harvard College students’ interest in education careers is on the rise. Senior Lecturer Kay Merseth's undergraduate education course, has been tremendously popular since its launch in 2011, inspiring many to enroll in the Undergraduate Teacher Education Program at Harvard University, the program Simpson directs. But, recently, Simpson has noticed that her students — many of whom are planning to become teachers — are starting to look beyond just working in the classroom.
“Many of these students aren’t sure what there is to do in the field of education besides teaching,” she says. “They are eager to participate in other opportunities, but don’t know where to start or look.”
To help guide them, Simpson designed, in consultation with Merseth, Opportunities in Education — a weeklong program offered in January that provides students with a glimpse of the different roles that exist within the education field outside the classroom.
With a series of shadow opportunities and panel discussions with people working in the field, the Opportunities in Education program is designed to give the students a taste of many different roles in education — part learning and part career exploration. This past January, students explored three areas:
- education for-profits (i.e. consulting), curriculum by design, and instructional coaching;
- nonprofits and tax-funded positions (i.e. library science, social work/counseling);
- and elected officials (Massachusetts representatives, school committee).
They were also able to observe at several organizations and offices, including Facing History and Ourselves; the Cambridge (Massachusetts) School Committee; Massachusetts Senator Pat Jehlen; and City Year. Additionally, the program included several panel discussions with professionals where students were able to explore other areas like arts education, education research, and administration.
“There are multiple things they are doing over the course of the week but the key is to expose them to as many professional stories and the content of their jobs as possible,” Simpson says. “The overarching question being, What is it that you are doing to contribute to field of education?”
Despite no credit being offered for the course, interest was high with 21 students participating in the program. Simpson thinks that the popularity of Merseth’s undergraduate course is at least partly responsible for Harvard College students’ growing interest in education as a career, a suspicion that is backed up by the students.
Harvard College sophomore Constance Bourguignon took Merseth's course last year and found herself inspired. “We received the visit of then-Colorado state senator Michael Johnston, [Ed.M.’00], who invited us to shift our perspectives from asking ourselves what we want to be to asking ourselves what we want to change,” she says, noting that though she continues to want to teach, Simpson and Merseth’s program broadened her understanding of the scope of the field. “I want to know who to turn to, or perhaps give myself the tools to become someone others can turn to, to tackle whatever issue I will encounter in the classroom and find most urgent.”
The program helped Harvard College Freshman Laura Frustaci find potential answers about her own future. “It opened my eyes to all of the possibilities in the field and really gave me a better idea of the various ways my career could turn out,” she says. “I was so inspired by the people I met, and their passion really made me feel more secure about deciding to pursue education.”
Merseth notes that the enthusiastic response to the program signifies the “growing awareness among Harvard students that education is a legitimate field for study, engagement, and contribution.”
“Exploring the field though multiple perspectives of policy, research, and advocacy, in addition to teaching, offers a tangible way for Harvard students to contribute to future society,” Merseth says.