Novice teacher María Franco’s first day of in-person school was bittersweet. It took place in mid-May, not September, and only half the class was physically present, with the other half attending online. Still, after teaching online last fall and most of the spring, standing in a classroom at Chelsea High School for the first time filled her with joy.
“Having students in front of me has re-energized me and reminded me of why I wanted to teach in the first place,” said Franco ’20, who discovered a love for teaching in her senior year. “Teaching online was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
A member of the Harvard Teacher Fellows (HTF), a program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education that trains College seniors and graduates who want to pursue careers in the classroom, Franco and her cohort of 26 fellows found themselves launching their teaching careers amid the pandemic, forcing rapid adjustments all around.
The program, started in 2015, is typically five semesters, including a teaching residency in a partner school across the country. But with the spread of COVID it became four semesters of coursework with a one-year residency in a partner school in Greater Boston. And there were shifts in curriculum. Lessons on body language and behavior management were replaced by methods for remote instruction and ways to build meaningful relationships with students in the virtual world.
Fellows remained in Boston for their residencies for safety reasons, said Noah Heller, director of Harvard Teacher Fellows, and a lecturer in education. But having instructors and teachers-in-training concentrated in one geographic area also made it easier for the groups to work closely together and offer each other support as the classroom situation evolved in an unparalleled time.
For Tatiana Patiño ’20, who was inspired to become a teacher after taking USW35, a popular class taught by now-retired senior lecturer Katherine Merseth, the program’s support was key during last year’s turmoil.