A Purple Chair

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Sitting on the purple chair in Gutman and staring out to the corner of Appian Way and Brattle Street. I just waved to some familiar faces. Months ago, I didn’t know this would be the chair I wrote my paper on first-generation programs, or where I’d engage in a twenty minute dialogue about educational rights of children in the midst of countries in warfare, or where I’d watch Sesame Street clips of Game of Thrones (Game of Chairs) and Star Wars (S’more Wars) parodies as a study break. But here I am, typing, seeing new friendships, and imagining my disruptive impact as I listen to Ed Sheeran.

I spoke to Mike Esposito (Ed.M. ’15) of the Harvard Financial Aid Office in the beginning of the semester and he shared with me something that has deeply resonated; our knowledge is a sphere, and the space around the sphere is the unknown–as we learn more, our sphere grows, but as we understand more, we become more aware of what we don’t know. Relatively speaking, the more we know, the less we know since the sphere’s surface area interfaces with more space.

Everyday is another discourse on a new educational movement, theory of change, and critique. The continued perspective is humbling. As my sphere grows, I need to keep traveling around my newfound world of understanding. Vigilance in intertextuality is the proverbial airplane–and I’ve racked up a lot of air miles. Although traveling is fun, it can be exhausting. I can feel the rich experiences in my DNA, but also the exhaustion stealing my love. With two weeks left to go for finals, I’m enduring the last leg of traveling before I can return to my mental palace and replenish. Yes, the workload is rigorous, but a few more connecting flights through tackling another 15 and 20 page paper will land me home–well, maybe after another break as I fall back into the purple chair.

Taaha Mohamedali is a Master’s of Education candidate in Higher Education. Prior to enrolling at Harvard, Taaha was an admissions officer coordinating efforts to improve access for marginalized groups at Lafayette College.  He hopes to improve transitional support structures for these groups in the years to come. His passions include spoken word, comedy, and rock, paper, scissors.

Moving Forward: Teaching After the Election

On election night, anxious but hopeful, I gathered in a small apartment with some Ed School friends to watch the election results stream in. Like much of the country, I was shocked at Donald Trump’s unexpected but decisive victory in the electoral college.

Late in the night, as the election results were becoming increasingly clear and friends were heading home one by one, I received a text from a good friend. He encouraged me to get some rest, adding: “The world needs good teachers.”

Those words were still stuck in my head when, on less than four hours of sleep, I woke at 5:15 AM the next morning to head to my practicum at a local middle school (as part of the Teacher Education Program, I am student-teaching in a sixth grade classroom this year). The day after the election, my 11 and 12-year-old students were unusually quiet and subdued. The students I teach are primarily immigrants and students of color. Many expressed distress over the election results and very real fears of racial violence or family members being deported. It was a rough, sobering day to be a teacher, one that made me realize just how hard – and important – teaching can be. That day at school, my mentor teacher and I did our best to give students the room to process their emotions and concerns and to reassure students that no matter what, they will always find a safe and supportive space in our classroom.

But the work doesn’t stop there. I’ve spent a lot of the last couple of weeks processing what Donald Trump’s presidency and the current political climate might mean for my students – for their rights, for the protection of their families, and for their future opportunities. I have many, many questions and not a whole lot of answers, but I do know this much: in a climate of great uncertainty and heightened bigotry, I have never felt stronger about my decision to teach.

At HGSE, the Teacher Education Program focuses on preparing teachers to work in urban public school classrooms. While I remain committed to urban education, I am reminded that the world needs good teachers everywhere. We need good teachers in rural areas to teach students about difference and empathy. We need good teachers in elite private schools to teach students about privilege. And we need good teachers everywhere to help students develop the compassion, resilience, and critical thinking skills they will need to engage with the world.

I know I still have a lot to learn here at HGSE and in my own practice as an educator, but I have never felt more committed to this work.

Sarah Mintz is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Teacher Education Program, pursuing licensure as a middle school English teacher. She comes to HGSE from Washington, D.C., where she worked at an independent school and a non-profit serving incarcerated youth. Outside of education, she loves to spend her time cooking and exploring the city with friends

Job Search, Already?!

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All of these thoughts have circulated in my mind. It is November and the end of the semester is right around the corner. I HAVE to have someplace to work and live when I leave here. Where will I be at this time next year? 

The Career Services Office at HGSE is really good about supporting students during our time here. Currently, fall PERC (Period of Employers Recruiting on Campus) is taking place. During this time employers come to HGSE, host information sessions, and conduct interviews for their open positions. It is a great time to learn about different companies  and learn about positions within the different sectors of education.

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Me! After a long day of networking, attending employer info sessions, and going to the Charter School Career Fair.

 

Attending office hours with the Career Services Office is very valuable as well. I have received great advice from the Associate Director of Career Services, Mary Frazier-Davis, to help me prepare for my transition to working again. The advice that I have received is so helpful and I feel like it is worth sharing!

  1. Find someone to be your professional mentor. This person can give you a wealth of knowledge within the field. You want to find someone that you trust and who has your best interest in mind. This is an invaluable resource that can further put you in touch with other professionals in your field. Imagine how great it would be to easily contact someone and receive any advice that you need for your career.
  2. Find people who are doing your ideal job. Reach out to them and conduct informal interviews. This is a great way to learn about a position and to see if it is a good fit for you. But don’t just find one person, find 10 people. This will give you a broader range of perspectives and will help you create a better picture of what it actually looks and feels like to have the job.
  3. If there is a company that you are interested in working with, reach out! You never know when they may be hiring. Even if your desired position is not available, another similar position may be presented simply because you reached out. By staying silent, you prevent yourself from unexpected and unforeseeable opportunities.
  4. Jobs aren’t always going to come to you. Sometimes you have to go to them. This doesn’t mean be aggressive, but it does mean that you have to actually put in the work to job search, network, and make yourself professionally available.
  5. Explore the network that you already have. Don’t forget about the people that you already know. Normally I like to keep things to myself but since I have been here, I recognize how valuable it is to collaborate with my peers. Because people come from various locations, we all know different people and have different networks. All it takes is a conversation to connect our networks and help each other land a job in our desired location with a company that is already approved by our peers.
  6. Don’t forget, many people get their current jobs because they knew someone at the company. This speaks for itself! Network. It is one of the best ways to find a job. It’s not what you know, but who you know. Cliche, yes. But rather accurate. Usually.
  7. Use LinkedIn wisely and to your advantage to connect with people. I used to shy away from LinkedIn. I have never been the best with social media. But now, I run towards LinkedIn! I think it is such a great resource for establishing and maintaining a professional network. It is also an easy way to see who in your network may know someone else that works with a company that you are interested in and may help you with your next job. I love how you can see who else from your alma mater works with a company. That is a great way to get your foot in the door.
  8. Be open. You may like a position at a company that you have never thought of before. As long as you are able to combine your passions into your job, it is ok! Many people have the false belief that working in education means you work at a school. There are other ways to be an educator. You can work at a nonprofit, a community center, within policy or the government, etc. You never know where you may end up. Just keep an open mind and make sure you are doing something that you are passionate about and enjoy.

In my A333Y School Instructional Leadership:Seminar and Practicum for School Developers class, taught by Dr. Irvin Scott (a professor who would be a phenomenal mentor), students from BINcA, a fully bilingual school in Boston Public Schools, spoke to my class about their school and how they are preparing to think about what they want to do with their future. These young students were completely open and stated that they are not sure what they want to do when they grow up. I made sure to inform them that discovering what you want to do is an ongoing process that I am always clarifying, changing, and refining even as an adult. Having great mentors make navigating your career more bearable. So lean in to receive help and assistance. You weren’t meant to figure life out all on your own!  

Rashaida Melvin is a Master’s of Education candidate in the School Leadership Program. She has taught for three years and is excited about moving from the classroom into leadership. Rashaida is looking forward to serving both teachers and students in the future.

Mushroom Learnings: Other People’s Projects

 

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My mushroom!

HGSE is full of projects. I’m currently working on a case study designing a teacher-led plan to stem teacher attrition in a school, a memo detailing how you could bring digital teacher coaching to a rural state, a proposal for a deeper-learning after school program targeting upper elementary ELLs, and a research-based rewrite of civics education to account for social media. When I came, I expected to learn a lot through doing these practice-based projects, and I am. 

What I didn’t realize I’d be learning from is other’s projects. Often people need participants to make their projects work, and being the caring friends we are, we step in for activities or focus groups or experiments. It’s been a way to sample classes I’m not in. One led to a really probing, affirming discussion the day after the election about the different ways race enters the classroom teaching in homogeneous communities and I left with a lot of new ideas, new resources, and a better understanding of what I want professionally going forward. She got quotes and I developed a life plan — fair trade. 

The most unexpected one I’ve taken part in is spore prints. It’s for T-550, “Designing for Learning by Creating.” The class is a big presence here — 150+ people, donuts before every meeting, a strong social media game — and I’m not in it. Check out @TFiveFifty or #tfivefifty on Instagram or Twitter to get a sampling and be jealous alongside me. 

Everybody has to design something, and somebody in my cohort is trying to cultivate observation and wonder through mushrooms. I couldn’t attend the walk-in-the-woods day, but I did have a lovely lunch where we observed wild mushrooms using all of our senses. We looked more closely with microscopes you could attach to your phone and finished by leaving the caps face-down on paper overnight to make a spore print. It turns out mushrooms secrete something that colors paper. Who knew? Not me!

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My spore print in the upper left and illustrations of my mushroom underside from various angles, including the cut-off stem.

Taking the time to stop, look, and wonder at something I’ve literally never thought about was a gift I didn’t know I needed. I had so much on my plate that day and almost didn’t go, but the experience was calming in the moment, taught me something about how mushrooms work, and has me looking at everyday objects differently. My final product is taped on my wall in my bedroom as a reminder to pause, be curious, and take advantage of all the wonderfully weird, wonderfully unexpected chances that come my way this year.

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A closeup. I took 15ish pictures of my mushroom using a microscope that fits on your smartphone and lets you take pictures. They’re like $10!

Becca Schouvieller is in the Instructional Leadership strand for experienced teachers within the Learning & Teaching program. She taught social studies in Maine for six years and is excited about civic education, rural education, college access and preparation, working within existing schools to improve teaching quality, and finding the best breakfast sandwich in Cambridge.

My Diversity Recruitment Program Experience

Two weekends ago, I had the privilege of being part of the festivities surrounding HGSE’s Diversity Recruitment Program (DRP). Over the two days of DRP, prospective applicants from all over and with diverse backgrounds visit Appian Way for the weekend to learn more about their programs of interest, interact with professors and current students, and start to wrap their heads around the many details involved in applying to HGSE.

On Friday, I participated in DRP as a student attendee at the HGSE Community Reception. While there, I and other students got to meet the ones whose shoes we were in last year to talk (informally and over food) about our memories of the admissions process and our experiences at HGSE thus far. It was really fun to share my story and especially meaningful to me to help ease the minds of amazing individuals who may have felt that they didn’t fit the mold of what a “Harvard” student should be.

In addition to the reception, I had been asked to lead a session on Saturday to help applicants brainstorm about their Statements of Purpose and to provide some insight into my own writing process. This would require me to allow a room full of prospective applicants to read copies of the very Statement that I had submitted to the Office of Admissions one year prior (they, for one reason or another, seemed to not think it was horrible). My personal goal for the year is to say “yes” more, so I agreed, but not without a fair amount of anxiety.

You see, I had been extremely secretive about and protective of my application to HGSE. The only people who knew about my decision to apply were the individuals who wrote my letters of recommendation; my own family had no idea I had even been considering Harvard until the day I received my acceptance letter. To say that they were pleasantly surprised when they heard the news is an understatement. I allowed exactly zero people to view my Statement of Purpose before I submitted it way too close to the deadline—about two minutes before 11:59pm—and hoped for the best.

The thought of having prospective students read and potentially critique my Statement, which no other eyes had ever seen, was utterly daunting, but my desire to help out and pay it forward outweighed my fear. When the time came for my session to begin and the copies of my Statement were handed out, I felt strangely calm. Ultimately, everything went well and the session turned out to be a great ending to DRP. Some of the attendees even stayed afterward to thank me for sharing my Statement and said they felt less nervous about writing their own, which was so relieving to hear.

I’m extremely grateful to have been able to contribute to making DRP the wonderful weekend it was and I hope that the many prospective applicants I met will have the opportunity to join the HGSE family. 

Monique Hall is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Technology, Innovation, and Education program. She is passionate about children’s media, ice cream, and educational equity.

Did I really just spend my weekend on a just-for-fun group project?: HIVE HackED

I chose HGSE in part for exposure to different ways of thinking about education than the small district, public high school perspective I’ve spent the last six years with. Being able to approach challenges in different ways is powerful, and I wanted a graduate program that had breadth as well as depth. HGSE’s range of cohorts and position within a larger university gives access to both, but in the day-to-day of pursuing your own priorities and completing assignments, I can sometimes forget about that.

That’s why the HIVE HackED event of last weekend was so cool (plus they fed me two lunches and a dinner, not to be discounted). Until this, the word “hackathon” conjured up a dark room and code for me. While technology is a part of it, it’s really more a compressed group project. Our challenge was to design something that would address some problem within education and be ready to pitch our solution and its business model to a panel of judges — in about six hours of work. They gave awards for most innovative, best business prospects, and largest impact. As a teacher, thinking about words like “market research” and “B2B” (a Business that sells TO a Business, which is different than business-to-consumer, or business-to-education) is completely foreign. 

This all took place at the Harvard iLab, which exists as a gathering place for innovators and entrepreneurs and is located on the Harvard Business School campus. It’s a magical place full of snacks and whiteboards and moveable furniture.

Here’s a look at the process:

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We started the by brainstorming every possible problem of education on a post-it. Then we grouped the post-its by category and had speed-dating time to find people who were concerned about the same issues as we were and form groups. I hadn’t met anybody I worked with before the weekend.

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Our group found a meeting room and wrote all over the walls about our problems, customer (or “use case”), and vision. Our idea looked to help high school students explore different career pathways outside of school. After laying out the big picture, we broke apart into a “business” group that tried to build a case for our product, and a “design” group that worked on developing what this looked like more closely. There was a lot of coffee, tea, and M&Ms in this process.

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There were also speakers the first night about design thinking and the second day about educational entrepreneurship. More tea.

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After about seven hours of work on Saturday (plus the panels), we came back together on Sunday to make our pitches. This isn’t my group, but these guys did win “Best Business Model.”

Our group didn’t win anything, but it was more about the process (though obviously I’d be saying something different if we had gotten a prize, made by the 3D printer at the iLab). Even though I didn’t get around to grocery shopping or laundry this weekend, I’m glad I did this because:

  • I learned a ton about the realities of entrepreneurship. I like certainty waaay too much for that to be a career path for me, but I have a better understanding of the people and process behind some of the tools I use and the pitches I’ll hear in the future (and now I’ll look less longingly at ping-pong playing start-ups).
  • Specifically, I went in thinking this would be about designing the best possible idea. While that mattered, I underestimated the importance of market research. After building our own presentation and hearing the judges ask questions, I even found myself asking “But what’s the business model? How is this going to make money?” during the last few presentations. I’ve literally never said those words before. New mindsets!
  • This was a great practice in working through something with a team, a skill I didn’t develop as a classroom teacher.
  • I thought big, creative thoughts about education problems. Schools are bureaucracies, and I’m used to being bound by reality and practicality. It was refreshing to be pushed outside the box.
  • I really got to know people I hadn’t had the chance to interact with, both from HGSE and from other schools.

I’m looking forward to relaxing and socializing (and reading) this weekend,  but this was a fantastic way to emerge from the quotidian by going deep into something new, and the experience really showcased some of the compelling reasons for me for choosing HGSE, including the snacks and post-its.

Becca Schouvieller is in the Instructional Leadership strand for experienced teachers within the Learning & Teaching program. She taught social studies in Maine for six years and is excited about civic education, rural education, college access and preparation, working within existing schools to improve teaching quality, and finding the best breakfast sandwich in Cambridge.

An Abundance of Opportunities!

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When you come to Harvard, it seems as if you have a world of opportunities presented to you. Well, that’s because you actually do! In any given week, Harvard Graduate School of Education will have multiple activities taking place. These events take on different forms and can be lectures, panels, forums, debates, and even discussions. Askwith is an enriching part of HGSE that provides programming with informative educational issues. Some of the topics this year were:

One of the most enriching experiences I have had so far, in regards to bridging the gap between classwork and speakers, stemmed from Monica Higgins“Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Learning” class. We recently studied a case about Ferguson, Missouri. This case discussed the various ways the three surrounding school districts handled the killing of Michael Brown. The current superintendent of  Ferguson-Florissant School District, Joe Davis (HGSE Ed.D. ‘08) spoke to my class and then engaged in an open conversation with the HGSE community. During this conversation, I was inspired by how personable Dr. Davis is and how humbled he is as a leader. I think moments like these are such valuable learning experiences. Although it is impossible to attend every event offered, it is important to pencil a few of these discussions into your schedule. They create a learning experience beyond the classroom.

So how do you find out about all of these opportunities? The Office of Student Affairs sends out a list of the week’s events every Monday at noon. This is the best way to know about events taking place at HGSE. Posters and flyers of the events can be found around campus as well as in the lobby of Gutman Library. For events outside of HGSE, I usually find out through word of mouth, Facebook events, and flyers posted in Harvard Yard.

No matter how you find out about an event, it is always important to push yourself to go! As a Master’s student, you are only here for a year, so make the most of the opportunity! This is such a rich academic community, use it to your advantage!

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Rashaida Melvin is a Master’s of Education candidate in the School Leadership Program. She has taught for three years and is excited about moving from the classroom into leadership. Rashaida is looking forward to serving both teachers and students in the future. 

Things to do with Kids in Cambridge/Boston

If you are thinking about coming to HGSE and you have kids, you will eventually need a great list of kid-friendly activities in the area. Here are some of my favorite places to get you started.

Cambridge is full of kid-friendly spots. The Cambridge Commons playground is right down the street from HGSE and is a must-do if you have little ones. Another must-do is the Museum of Science – don’t miss the butterfly garden and planetarium. The Cambridge Public Library is also fantastic and has cute story hours. If you are looking for outdoor activities, make sure to check out Memorial Drive on Sundays. From late April to early November, the street is closed to traffic every Sunday from 11am to 7pm. My kids are there every weekend riding their bikes. Another great outdoor activity is kayaking on the Charles River. The kayak rental location in Allston is our favorite because it’s on a calm stretch of the river away from the larger boats.

In Boston, make sure to check out the Boston Public Library and the Boston Children’s Museum. Boston Common and the Public Garden are also a favorite spot for us. We are eagerly awaiting the seasonal opening of the ice skating rink in the Common!

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When you get to HGSE, you will find a warm community of student parents. There are several organized events throughout the year, including movie nights and an annual Halloween party. In October, we went on a HGSE apple picking “field trip” at a local farm, and my three-year-old is still talking about it. If you find yourself apple picking next year, make sure to try the spiced donuts. Trust me on that one.

And finally, if the thought of coming to HGSE with children sounds daunting – don’t worry. Many of the students here are in the same boat, and there will be plenty of people to give you advice. Cambridge and Boston are both great cities for families, and there is no shortage of things to do. I look at my year here as an adventure for all of us!

Sara DeWolf is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Education Policy and Management program. She has experience as both a civil litigation attorney and a public school teacher. When she’s not at HGSE, you can find her playing with her daughters and exploring Boston.   

How not to change the world (in 4 easy steps)

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Seems accurate. Illustration by Julia Gamolina

I have to start by saying that I feel really arrogant writing this. Who am I to talk about “changing the world”? That’s right, nobody. But I still believe this is a blog post worth writing, especially because I wish someone had told me these things when I was younger.

I’ve always had this ambition to change the world, and I think it’s something everybody wants whether they express it or not. But this idea has gone through many transformations over time. Before, I thought changing the world was this completely revolutionary thing that would be included in history books.

My plan to success was infallible:

  1. Choose a very noble domain of knowledge
  2. Learn all available content in that domain
  3. Think of something no one in humankind has ever thought before
  4. The world would NEVER BE THE SAME!

I see now how this plan was an obstacle to actually doing anything, because it put so much pressure that is was paralyzing. Today, when I say to myself that I want to change the world, I don’t see it as arrogance, I just have a new understanding of what that might look like. Its now a value that guides my life and something I take into account when choosing how to spend my time. Here’s how I think about things now:

1. Choose a very noble domain of knowledge

It is very tempting to rank domains and professions as more or less noble – and, worse, to think we can only make a difference by devoting ourselves to specific fields. For a long time I thought that the things I liked (singing, drawing, creative activities in general) were silly and superfluous, and I even stopped dedicating myself to them because of that. But somehow I would always go back to them. Today I see how foolish it was to judge my own passions, and I think the best change happens when we find what makes sense for us as individuals.

2. Learn all available content in that domain

With so much information at hand, not knowing sounds like failure: it seems like passivity. I felt like I had to know everything before I “did the good work” because I was afraid to say something and give away my ignorance. It took me a long time to accept the open ended nature of knowledge. It’s a liberating concept: if no one can know it all, there is no reason to hold back from doing for fear of not knowing. And, even better, I love thinking that through doing, I’ll always have new things to learn.

3. Think of something no one in humankind has ever thought of before

We need a lot of people trying to “change the world” because, in our human condition, we are small, mortal, and flawed. Our reach is limited in terms of time and place. It is not enough, for instance, to have someone doing amazing work today in the United States if families in other parts of the world or future generations don’t have access to that work. The painstaking labor of cultivating and scattering wisdom is something we don’t consider as revolutionary when we’re younger, but it is what keeps knowledge alive and constantly growing. I know I have a part, no matter how big or small, in advancing the greater narrative of knowledge.

4. The world would NEVER BE THE SAME!

I don’t know if I’m going to be in history books or if my 15 minutes of fame were actually my Facebook post that had 300 likes (that story is for another time). Maybe in five years, I’ll be writing another blog post about how I saw things all wrong but that is the nature of learning, growing, and staying in the present. But I think putting my best foot forward is the only way I can actually change things, no matter how big or small.

Note: this post was originally posted in the Portuguese language here.

Gabriela Talarico is passionate about creativity, self-regulation, education, and qualitative research. She joins HGSE from Brazil as a Jorge Paulo Lemann Fellow and is currently a Master’s in Education Candidate in the Human Development and Psychology Program.

Connecting with the Community

I am very fortunate to be participating in the Urban Scholars Program here at HGSE. The program awards scholarships to Master’s students committed to careers in urban education. As part of the fellowship, Urban Scholars also meet once a month with professors to discuss issues of social justice and education.

This past weekend, I went with some fellow Urban Scholars to volunteer at Haley House, a wonderful nonprofit with diverse programs that all revolve around connecting low-income communities with food. The particular program we volunteered with was Community Table, a weekly pay-what-you-can meal at the Haley House café in Roxbury. The program allows members of the community who might not otherwise be able to afford a sit-down restaurant experience the opportunity to dine out and be treated to a three-course meal. It also creates space for neighbors to break bread together and strengthen community bonds.

As volunteers, we helped to prepare dinner, waited tables, and ate with the guests. As much as I love my time on campus, it was so nice to take an evening to get out of the Harvard/Cambridge bubble and give back to the larger Boston community. I left Haley House feeling inspired and full of good food and good energy.

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Sarah (right) and fellow Urban Scholars at Haley House

Sarah Mintz is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Teacher Education Program, pursuing licensure as a middle school English teacher. She comes to HGSE from Washington, D.C., where she worked at an independent school and a non-profit serving incarcerated youth. Outside of education, she loves to spend her time cooking and exploring the city with friends