The fellowship is different from university models that include some student teaching, and programs like Teach For America (TFA), largely because fellows are eased into the profession and given significant mentorship and support as they acclimate to the classroom, according to Shed. During their first year, for instance, they are only expected to teach two or three classes each day after completing seven months of initial training and coursework. Once the training ends, fellows are expected to stay in high-needs classrooms for four to seven years.
TFA, by contrast, was launched in 1989, and offers five weeks of training and requests a two-year commitment from teachers. TFA has been criticized in the past for contributing to high teacher turnover at struggling schools, although the organization has said its members have access to coaches and online support—and most of its alumni stay in the field.
Shed believes Harvard’s additional training and longer teaching commitment set it apart from other programs. He added that fellows are only sent to schools “where the administration [and] school culture is one that really supports and grows teachers.”
Harvard’s approach is supported by research that shows similar models may boost student outcomes and reduce teacher turnover, which can be a critical problem at struggling schools.
“There’s often a disconnect in what fellows learn in schools and what they experience in the classroom,” Shed said of more traditional university teacher-preparation models, which can thrust recent graduates into the job without sufficient practice and feedback. “It’s like drinking from a firehose,” he said.
At Harvard, the participating fellows begin with a teaching-methods class in the spring of their senior year, coursework that continues through the summer while they spend some time teaching in a public school under a mentor’s supervision. Once they arrive at their school placement this fall, fellows will work with an on-site mentor in addition to their Harvard mentor, while completing additional coursework online.
That level of training and support is partly what convinced Turner to apply for the program. “When we’re planning our lessons and run into difficulties in the classroom, I have about six or seven people I can go to,” Turner said. “I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I were in a program like Teach For America.”
After their first year, fellows return to campus for a second summer’s worth of classes and practice teaching, and can work toward a master’s degree at a reduced price, an incentive that some participants described as a big draw.
The program is starting small: 18 fellows are participating this year, free of charge, and will receive a partial salary from their placement schools along with a stipend from the program, which is supported by $18 million in private contributions. By contrast, about 6,000 New York City teachers will start this fall, officials said, including 1,150 through the city’s own teaching fellowship, which includes a summer of training followed by full-time teaching.