'They've made Worcester home': Why the City Is Perfect for Teachers

Josh Delgado '15 is reviewing classwork with a student from his Honors Algebra II class.

Motivated students and a desire to shatter urban education myths are drawing an increasing number of graduates of the College's Teacher Education Program to the city's schools

Josué "Josh" Delgado '15 and Lauren Delgado '16, who married in 2020, not only met thanks to Holy Cross' Teacher Education Program (TEP), but also discovered a love of teaching and Worcester. Lauren's voice catches as she recounts the moment while student teaching when she knew her calling was to stay and teach in the city: "I was talking with some of my middle school students about their passions and [high school plans], and I just remember thinking, 'I have to be here to see them grow.'"

The Delgados are part of a trend among TEP graduates: Roughly 1 in 5 are staying in Worcester to teach. It's thrilling, shares Mary Beth Ryan Cashman '05, program director, especially given that talented educators are in demand everywhere. "They've made Worcester home over the past four years, and they're not ready to leave because their calling is here," she says. "They've found that these students are worth it, and they've found mentors and teachers who have really looked out for them."

With a focus on urban education, TEP combines coursework with intensive field-based experiences. After a practicum in the Worcester Public Schools (WPS), TEP students graduate with their degree from Holy Cross and a Massachusetts state initial teaching license at the secondary or middle school level. "TEP is unique because it really is a calling for students who want to get into the classroom right away," Cashman notes.

Megan Ober meets with students in the Teacher Education Program
Megan Ober meets with students in the Teacher Education Program

"Our program is small — we're very hands-on," adds Megan Ober, TEP assistant director. On average, the program graduates eight to 10 teachers per year. "We really get to know the Holy Cross students and that's what makes us very successful." The program's close relationship with WPS is one of "mutual respect and admiration," Cashman emphasizes, noting that Ober's close ties with educators across the city's 46 schools help her expertly match them with TEP student teachers. "The placement is usually pretty magical," Ober notes.

The program also prepares students for the challenges facing the teaching profession. A recent National Education Association survey of thousands of educators across the country revealed alarming rates of burnout. Cashman directly addresses burnout and self-care during one of her courses, timing the unit for March, typically a challenging point in the school year for educators: "[We talk about], 'How do we make sure we're giving ourselves what we need?'" she says.

TEP is housed within Holy Cross' education department. Currently, more than 120 students are minoring in education, including TEP students, who also earn the minor. With its mission to "prepare effective, reflective, justice-seeking educators," the program philosophically aligns with the education department and its focus on equipping students with an "equity-driven lens," says Ericka Fisher '96, department chair and associate professor of education.

"One of the reasons TEP is so strong is because it's embedded within the education department," she explains. Students learn from scholars and practitioners who not only offer foundational, policy-focused courses, but also model the teaching approaches they're instructing, Fisher says. Education courses offer all students, regardless of whether they are part of TEP, many opportunities to get hands-on experience in Worcester schools, even during the first courses they take.

A district of more than 25,000 students — 72% of whom are students of color — Worcester boasts a vibrant, diverse population, Fisher says. "Not just diversity of race or ethnicity, but diversity of socio-economic class, gender, sexuality, religion," she notes. "There's no better place to learn how to become a citizen of the world than the Worcester Public Schools." Fisher, Cashman and Ober know this firsthand — each attended Worcester schools and enrolled their children, as well.

Fisher challenges the deficit model — a focus on obstacles or what is lacking — that too often accompanies the word "urban." "'Urban' is bright, vibrant, action-driven and exciting," she counters. "Great things are happening in urban places. I'm hoping that as the years go by, we continue to see more and more alumni choose to stay in urban places."

Josh Delgado '15 (math) and LaurenDelgado '16 (English), Burncoat High School

Lauren Delgado came to Holy Cross knowing she wanted to teach. But for Josh Delgado, an education course with Fisher inspired him to switch his focus from engineering to education. "Professor Fisher's attitude in that class was just brilliant. She was so passionate about what she was teaching," says Josh, who joined TEP, majored in math and minored in education.

"TEP did a really good job at being upfront with the challenges [of teaching] and shaping our mindset," he says. Lauren, an English major and education minor, agrees: "As an example, a student might be facing homelessness, which is a reality for over 10% of our student population. But, the mindset is, 'How do you support them so they can get to the learning?' That's still something I think about all the time.

"TEP also emphasized that you need to know your students outside the classroom," she continues. "So, at least once a week, we go to something, whether it's a basketball game, art show, a play. I can think of multiple instances where it might have been difficult to make a connection with a student, then I went to their basketball game and we have had a great bond ever since."

Josh emigrated with his family from Peru to Lynn, Massachusetts, when he was 7. "Our students who came here from different countries, I can relate to them in that sense," he says. Sometimes this means tough conversations about leaving friends and family behind. Other times, it's swapping tips on where in Worcester to find favorite foods from home.

"Within the past month, we've enrolled 20 students who just moved here from Afghanistan, El Salvador, Brazil," Lauren notes. "Josh is one of the handful of teachers of color at the school in a very diverse environment. It's really important for the students to see him and have him as a mentor." Lauren, who grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts, says diversity is a "magical" part of teaching and learning in Worcester: "I went to a very good high school, but it wasn't as diverse and I missed out, growing up without that."

The Delgados are passionate about shattering urban education misconceptions. "Kids can grow when they feel safe, valued, loved and respected — like a human and not a statistic or a stereotype," Lauren says.

"A lot of these kids have to work jobs outside of school because they need to help out their families; it doesn't mean that school isn't important to them," Josh adds. "[It is our job] to find avenues for our students to be successful."

"Holy Cross emphasized all the time that you might be that person to recognize and value them, and see them for who they are," Lauren notes. "I keep thinking of 'men and women for and with others' — it was ingrained in TEP." She emphasizes that the rewards of teaching in Worcester are a two-way street: "I've learned so much about resilience, strength and grit from my students."

Gordon Burnett '12 (chemistry), North High School

Gordon Burnett, originally from Springfield, Massachusetts, majored in chemistry, minored in education and graduated from TEP ready to fulfill his lifelong dream to teach. He had plenty of options, but only one clear choice.

"When Worcester gave me the contract, I thought, 'I don't care what the other offers say. I'm going to be in Worcester because I fell in love with [North High],'" he remembers. "It's not just the physical location and students, it's the staff. They were welcoming right away to me as a student teacher and made the transition near-seamless." In fact, he now teaches in the room formerly occupied by his student teaching mentor, Carol Chandley, a veteran chemistry teacher, now retired. "I still use materials that I got from her," Burnett smiles, gesturing around his classroom.


It's not just the physical location and students, it's the staff. They were welcoming right away to me as a student teacher and made the transition near-seamless.

Gordon Burnett '12, Teacher

Burnett's Holy Cross professors also continue to shape his teaching, a decade after he graduated, such as Fisher and her educational psychology course, in which Burnett taught mock lessons while his peers and Fisher role-played different types of learners. Fisher still pops into his head, Burnett says: "Like, OK, I know how to deal with this [student]."

For Burnett, being aware of his students' unique backgrounds is as important to his teaching practice as the content. He recalls a bright student from Brazil he taught during TEP student teaching. Burnett and Chandley were determined to figure out why this student's calculations were consistently off: "All of her work was set up right. Why is she off by factors of 10 to 1,000? We figured out it's because where the U.S. uses commas, Brazil uses decimals, and vice versa."

The opportunity to teach Worcester's diverse student body was a major draw for Burnett: "There are not many teachers who look like our students, and I know that's important — for them to see someone who looks like them. They think, 'This guy looks like me, he's teaching me this, so maybe I actually can do it.'"

Hannah Trueman'19 (English Language Arts), Sullivan Middle School

Originally from Winnetka, Illinois, Hannah Trueman always assumed she would teach in Chicago after graduating. Then Worcester stole her heart. "I just had such a great experience student teaching here," she says. "It's people from all over the world, all different walks of life. In the classroom, you share that and you learn from one another." Trueman also felt embraced by Worcester and loved becoming entrenched in the community as part of TEP, especially while student teaching her senior year: "Every day, I got up, packed a lunch, got dressed in my professional clothes and went to [teach at Sullivan Middle School].

"TEP is a small program, so we'd spend so much time reflecting," recalls Trueman, an English major and education minor. "To this day, I crave that feedback and reflective opportunities. I put sticky notes on all of my lessons," she laughs. "From period to period, you can make changes and make [your lessons] better for kids."

Too often, Trueman sees urban education depicted inaccurately and unfairly. She emphasizes that her students are motivated and reaching for success: "I'm doing a unit right now on what makes a dream worth pursuing. All my students want to either go to a technical school, find a job or go to college. So we talk about that, and they set goals for themselves. Yes, there may be extra obstacles, but at the end of the day, they want to be successful.

"This year has been really tough — any educator in the whole country could say that. But the people I work with, not only students, are my inspiration. We collaborate all the time, we always check in on each other. They have this passion for Worcester as well," Trueman continues. "If we don't have resources because there isn't funding, we use [fundraising site] DonorsChoose — we just raised funds for 1,000 new books. We find ways to make it possible."