This article originally appeared in the spring 2016 Harker Quarterly.
Lauren Gutstein ’06
Teaching English and Drama at a Quaker School in Delaware
For the past two years, Lauren Gutstein ’06 has worked as an upper school English and drama teacher at the Wilmington Friends School in Delaware, a private Quaker school serving preschool through high school students.
“Getting up in front of class can be, in my opinion, quite theatrical, which fits my personality. I also love that teaching requires me to be constantly learning,” said Gutstein of her work at the school, which was founded in 1748 by members of the Wilmington Monthly Meeting of Friends (Quakers).
The school was originally intended for Quakers as well as for underprivileged children, regardless of religion. As Delaware started offering public education, the school moved toward its current college-preparatory program. Today only about 7 percent of the students are Quaker.
Gutstein, who teaches grades 10 to 12, called it “fascinating” to experience high school from “the other side.” Now, she said, she empathizes with her students as they agonize over a paper, audition or college application, remembering how she felt in those moments.
A highlight for Gutstein is directing the upper school’s annual musical. This past fall she worked with her students on the musical “Kiss Me Kate.”
Prior to teaching at the school, Gutstein lived and worked in Kazakhstan, a central Asian country and former Soviet republic, for several years. In addition to teaching English and literature at the Nazarbayev Intellectual School in Astana, Gutstein started a drama program. “We actually put on five trilingual (English, Kazakh and Russian) plays. I was working at a fairly new school and they were doing a lot of experimenting with curriculum and school organization, so one skill I really learned there is flexibility,” she recalled.
“The respect and admiration I had for my teachers at Harker was another factor in choosing teaching as a profession. Harker definitely nurtured my many interests, both academic and extracurricular. Harker also taught me how to balance a million responsibilities at once, which is teach- ing in a nutshell,” said Gutstein.
When asked to give advice for other alumni interested in teaching, Gutstein suggested teaching in wildly different environments. “Between Quaker education, Kazakhstani education, and student teaching in The School District of Philadelphia, I’ve seen dramatically different educational models and experienced joys and frustrations with each. Also, I learned what minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit feels like, so East Coast winters seem pretty tame!” she said.
Grace Hudkins ’08
Working Abroad in South Korea
Grace Hudkins ’08 had never been to Korea before moving there to teach theater to elementary school children attending Chad- wick International (CI). Located in the newly created city of Songdo in Incheon, South Korea, CI is an independent, coed, non-sectarian, preK-12 international school.
Hudkins recalled taking “a huge leap of faith” going to CI. Not only was she unfamiliar with Korea, she was entering into an intern position, so figured she would only stay a year or two. “I had never even eaten Korean food! But when my boss offered me the chance to start a drama program for the elementary school, I couldn’t say no!” recalled Hudkins.
“My first year I was an intern in a grade 3 classroom, then for the last two years, I have taught elementary school drama. Next year I am moving into a role as the coordinator of our theater spaces, as well as teaching some middle and upper school drama and theater tech,” said Hudkins, who currently works with students in preschool and kindergarten.
Incheon is known as an exciting area and transportation hub bordering the country’s capital of Seoul. Life in Korea is pretty great, said Hudkins, thanks to “a wonderful built-in community at the school, with expats from all over the world.” During her free time, Hudkins enjoys exploring Seoul, which is about an hour away, and is jam-packed with museums, shopping, culture and restaurants.
Teaching comes naturally to Hudkins, who has always enjoyed being around children. “I started babysitting when I was just 11, and was a camp counselor from the time I was 16. I became licensed for early childhood education, and my background in theater prepared me to build the elementary school program out here at CI,” she explained.
Hudkins credits Harker’s performing arts programs with spurring her interest in her current work. “It was through the arts that I found community, family and a sense of belonging. Harker’s conservatory program gave me a really well-rounded understanding of the arts, which launched me into my college student theater group as a director and stage manager in my first year.”
When Hudkins thinks about life after CI, she is not certain if it will always be as a traditional classroom teacher. “I can see doing educational outreach for a theater company, stage managing for a youth drama program or something completely different. For the foreseeable future, I am really passionate about international education and I love teaching drama, so I hope to keep doing that even after I leave CI,” she said.
Hassaan Ebrahim ’11
Working with Low-Income Families in East San Jose
Hassaan Ebrahim ’11 recently received his undergraduate degree in neuroscience from the University of Southern California but put plans to apply to medical school on hold. Instead he signed up for a two-year stint with Teach For America (TFA), a nonprofit organization promoting educational equity.
After competing an intense training program this past summer, he was placed at Summit Rainier High School in East San Jose as a grade 9 math teacher, becoming one of the thousands of college graduates now serving as TFA teachers nationwide, and one of 340 in the Bay Area. These select individuals, known as “corps members,” commit to teaching for at least two years in a public or charter K-12 school in one of 52 low-income communities the organization serves.
“Education is more important than simply allowing someone to earn a steady income. Education opens doors of opportunity, allows one to discover new passions and to live an authentic life,” said Ebrahim. “The fact that such inequity exists in our country is shocking. I am drawn to working towards bringing quality education to those who need it most.”
According to TFA statistics, there is an educational crisis in San Jose, with nearly 40,000 students not proficient in grade-level skills and 2,300 middle and high school students dropping out every year. To combat the problem, back in 2009, a group of committed parents from East San Jose approached Summit Public Schools – a nonprofit organization created to provide high quality public school options to diverse communities – about bringing a Summit charter school to their community.
In 2011, two Summit schools in San Jose were born, Summit Rainier and Summit Tahoma. Summit Rainier is now a thriving high school in East San Jose and ranks among the top 20 public high schools in Santa Clara County.
Ebrahim, who plans to begin medical school after fulfilling his teaching commitment, recommends TFA to any alumni interesting in going into teaching. Corps members do not have to be certified teachers but must attend a training program. Once placed at a school, TFA teachers are considered full-fledged faculty members there.
“I wanted to do something different, not touring the world, but something still purposeful, before going on to medical school,” shared Ebrahim, who, after spending his TFA time working with children, is now considering becoming a pediatrician.
“My time at Harker taught me about the value of making a meaningful impact. I have such gratitude to the teachers I had. And Spanish at Harker really paid off as I now use it to speak with the families of some of my students!” he added.
Leyna Cotran ’94
Sharing Passion for Computer Science with University Students
Leyna Cotran ’94 knows a thing or two about racking up frequent flier miles. Prior to recently becoming a full-time computer science instructor at Santa Clara University, she worked there as a part-time adjunct faculty lecturer while completing a Ph.D. in software engineering at the University of California, Irvine. That meant a lot of back and forth travel between Southern California and the Bay Area.
“It was just go, go, go!” recalled Cotran, who along the way also became pregnant with her first child, a daughter now 2 years old.
Prior to working at Santa Clara University, Cotran was the project lead for Navy re-entry systems at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co., one of four major business divisions of Lockheed Martin, an American global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company with worldwide interests.
Although she spent many years working in the private sector, Cotran, who earned her master’s degree in software engineering from Santa Clara University, says she feels at home teaching at her alma mater. One of the first courses she created and taught at the college continues to be part of the school’s master’s curriculum for software engineering.
One of the things Cotran enjoys most about teaching at Santa Clara University is the opportunity to transmit knowledge to a new generation. “The students I teach today are going to be leaders during my child’s future,” said Cotran, who finds she has a fresh perspective on teaching now that she has become a parent.
“Much of my own character was shaped at Harker. Now that I am teaching, it feels like things have come full circle,” she said.