Harvard Graduate School of Education Logo

Give back to HGSE and support the next generation of passionate educators and innovative leaders.

Summer 2019

Why Are You Here?

Illustration by Greg Mably; Photographs by Jonathan Kozowyk

download a PDF of the article

Who Are You Here For?

Ten teachers in this year’s master’s programs answered a question that Dean Bridget Terry Long had posed to them several times this year: Who are you here for?

At the end of last summer, on stage at orientation, Dean Bridget Terry Long told the 739 new students what an impressive bunch they were. Addressing the “imposter syndrome” many graduate students bring with them when they arrive on Appian Way, Long reassured them that they each belonged at Harvard. But she also asked the students to consider an important question: What about the people who aren’t here?

“You didn’t come to HGSE just to get an education for yourself,” she said, “but to improve the lives of those who can’t be here.” She went on to say, “Whatever your greatest wishes and aspirations are, I hope they are greater than you. You are here to make a real and lasting difference, and there is a whole world that is eagerly waiting for you.”

With this sentiment in mind, we asked 10 current master’s students who are teachers to think about Long’s question and to answer another: Who are you here for?

Harmonie Coleman

Harmonie Coleman

PROGRAM: Teacher Education

TAUGHT: Students with disabilities in Atlanta for three years. Currently teaches seventh grade ELA in Boston and after graduation, will continue teaching in Brooklyn, New York.

I am here for my students — unequivocally. They are the best part of my day, every day. I look at them and see an abundance of tomorrows. I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention my family. I’m here for my parents, my little brother, my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I’m especially here for my grandmothers. My grandmothers were born in the ‘40s. They graduated from high school and immediately became members of the workforce, housewives, and mothers. My grandmothers dreamed of my life, my talents, and my good health long before my parents resolved to bring me into the world. I am a primary benefactor of their love. My victories are theirs, too. I’m here — at this powerful place of privilege and prestige — because of them, and now I teach for them. This year, one grandmother will welcome her 82nd trip around the sun; the other will celebrate her second heavenly birthday. Minnie Coleman Gevedon and Sharon Louise Johnigan Pinkston, this is for you.

Mark Dennis

Mark Dennis

PROGRAM: Higher Education

TAUGHT: Psychology at Mission College, a public community college in Santa Clara, in Southern California. Will continue teaching at Mission or another community college in the area after graduation.

My work ultimately comes back to me. I teach to promote the growth, healing, and self-actualization of my students, but that is also a part of my own growth healing and self-actualization. The work that I challenge my students to do on themselves is also the work that I push myself to do. During my year at the Ed School, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the ways in which community colleges can serve not only as spaces for personal and professional growth, but also as individual and communal healing spaces. The highest compliment I have received as an educator was from a student who said, “Your class felt like a semester-long support group.” As I think about returning to my campus community, I’m reflecting on ways that I can cocreate not only classroom space that feels this way, but ultimately departments, divisions, and institutions that promote the healing and betterment of the whole person, their families, and communities.  

Woojin Kim

Woojin Kim

PROGRAM: Learning and Teaching

TAUGHT: Middle and high school Latin in Houston, Texas, for three years. After graduation, will serve as the grades 6–12 classics department chair at Flint Hill School in Oakton, Virginia.

Who am I here for? My parents. Who could have known that these two immigrants from Korea would stumble upon each other in the States, work in construction and food services, and have a child end up at Harvard? As Min Jin Lee, author of Free Food for Millionaires and Pachinko, points out, in researching her third novel, many Koreans place a high value on education and will go to great lengths to attain it for their children. A degree from Harvard, for my parents, reassures them that their sacrifices were not for naught. A degree from Harvard indicates job security for their own children when theirs was not always as certain. A degree from Harvard brings my parents honor, and I hope that my life continues to do so as I teach students and colleagues, as I learn for my own personal and professional growth, and as I, deo volente, seek every individual’s fullest flourishing on this side of eternity.

Valencia Tilden

Valencia Tilden

PROGRAM:Learning and Teaching

TAUGHT: Fourth and fifth grade and as a literacy coach in the Reads to Lead Program, Gallup McKinley County Public Schools, New Mexico, and fourth grade in Oahu. Will teach in the Boston area and eventually move back to New Mexico.

2019I was home, in Gallup, New Mexico, for the summer of 2017. I sat with my mom at a restaurant. A young Navajo boy came to our table with beautiful earrings to sell. In one hand he had his earrings, in his other his “spinners.” I asked about his spinners, and he lit up with excitement, telling me how he saved money for them, but wasn’t able to get the one he hoped for because he had to help his family with gas money. I asked him about school. The excitement drained from his eyes. In that moment, I knew that I wanted to do whatever I could to be a part of the change in our local schools to see our Native youth excited about learning, proud of their culture and identity, and filled with a hope for the future. I wanted for that young boy to have every opportunity to help his family and his community and achieve his dreams.

Nathan Whitfield

Nathan Whitfield

PROGRAM: Teacher Education

TAUGHT: Advanced mathematics for one year in Brooklyn, New York, seven at KIPP Delta Collegiate High School in Helena, Arkansas. Goal is to teach high school for the rest of his life, more than likely in the Mississippi Delta.

I often reflect on why I chose a program that focuses on urban education. I was born and raised in rural Arkansas, and sitting in courses, trying to explain what it means to teach in rural America, has been more frustrating than I can articulate. When I think of families in towns where schools have been closed and they commute on buses for more than an hour to school each way, every day, it is beyond heartbreaking. I am here for the resilient people and students of the Mississippi Delta who are often forgotten in our talk of equity and education. I owe much to my community and especially the educators from whom I have had the privilege to learn, many of whom were never fortunate enough to sit in ivory tower classrooms. They remind me that my place here as an African American male math teacher is a direct product of those forgotten people and communities of the Delta. I owe them so much.

Mandy Stein

Mandy Lauren Stein

PROGRAM: Specialized Studies

TAUGHT: In Tanzania, where she founded Neema International, a nonprofit, which includes two schools. Taught mostly English, the arts, and life skills courses. Will move back to Tanzania after graduation.

Our work is based in Uru, a remote village at the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, where I lived and worked alongside 7,000 people who were living on less than a dollar a day, with no access to running water or electricity. The vast majority of children do not begin schooling until the age of six or seven, which is well past the most critical years for child development. Between the total absence of an academic foundation and the trauma and violence to which many of them are exposed, these children are at risk of falling further into the cycle of poverty that they were born into. I am here for these children. I am here because I believe that education is the answer. I believe that a strong foundation in life will allow these children to not only become architects of their own futures, but it will also empower those around them to lead their country to a better and brighter tomorrow.

Nate Deysher

Nate Deysher

PROGRAM: Learning and Teaching

TAUGHT: Eleventh-grade literature for five years in New Haven, Connecticut. After graduation, plans to teach or work in a school as an instructional coach or, ideally, a blend of both.

Whenever I’m in need of motivation, I reread messages my former students scrawled in Sharpie all over a t-shirt on the last day of school. Many students seized the opportunity to critique my sense of humor. Ashley reminded me, “Your jokes are super corny but you’re lit like a lamp,” while Asinya advised, “Get some new material.” Others, like Amadi, urged me on to “do amazing at Harvard and achieve bigger and better things.” Her message is inspiring and, in a way, impossible: Since my first year of teaching, I’ve known there’s no bigger and better thing than working and learning alongside my students every day. I’m here because a lit(erature) class isn’t just about the books my students read, but about the stories they tell as change agents in their lives beyond the classroom.

Miriam Hammond

Miriam Hammond

PROGRAM: Teacher Education

TAUGHT: In summer fellowships throughout college in Monrovia, Liberia; Denver, Colorado; and Tuskegee, Alabama. Most recently taught ELA to second-year college students at the Akilah Institute in Rwanda. Plans to teach and research education-related issues in Washington, D.C.

I am here for students across the United States who are incarcerated in youth detention facilities under the supervision of officials who do not believe all students are worthy of receiving a comparable education regardless of their legal history. I am here for these students because many of them are dehumanized and stripped of their legal right to receive an education because our society likens our incarcerated youth to subordinate, disposable beings — subhuman. Before my time at HGSE, I knew nothing about the (lack of) education services offered in youth correctional facilities, but thanks to both the amazing guidance of Adjunct Lecturer Lynnette Tannis, Ed.D.’13, and the opportunity to tutor in a local facility, I am leaving with a completely altered worldview, one that acknowledges that inequities in education occur not only in classrooms in traditional schools, but also in classrooms inside detention facilities.

Luis De La Vina

Luis De La Vina Simon

PROGRAM: Learning and Teaching

TAUGHT: At Anáhuac University, in Querétaro, Mexico, as a lecturer in psychology for almost five years, and where he plans to return after he graduates this year.

I was in high school when I decided to be a teacher. I didn’t have a clue about what I was going to teach, where, or to whom, but I was certain there was no better way to make my life meaningful. Throughout my education, many of my teachers inspired me to be the best version of myself, and I wanted to do the same for others in the future. That dream became a reality five years ago when I began my teaching career as a lecturer in psychology. I’m here thanks to all the students I have had in the past, but I’m also here for all the students I will have in the future. Every semester I have the chance to make a difference in the lives of my students, just like my teachers have made a difference in my life. That is a huge responsibility, and I want to be up to the challenge.

Johanny Canada Hlatshwayo

Johanny Canada-Hlatshwayo

PROGRAM: Learning and Teaching

TAUGHT: Math and science in Salem and Malden public schools in Massachusetts, then Cambridge Public Schools since 2004, where she will be returning as a bilingual math coach at the Amigos School.

I am here first and foremost for me. I was a leader who was leading without having a clear understanding of what I stood for. I am here because I put off coming to Harvard for too long, and I wanted to know it was still a possibility. I came to focus on being a learner, find out what makes me who I am, and how I can help others see their true potential. As a mother, I am here to let my children know they can truly do whatever they set their minds to. I am learning how influential past experiences have been in shaping my life. In my courses, I am finding opportunities to deeply explore how these experiences continue to shape the leader I choose to become. I am becoming increasingly aware of challenges my own children could be facing as young American-Afro-Latinx students and of some of the indicators we, as teachers, might be missing in order to best support how our students learn. I hope to continue to develop the “me” that’s waiting to emerge and to find opportunities to help others do the same.