Taking an Alternative Route to a Career in Education

Taking an Alternative Route to a Career in Education

Joshua Hirsh is the first graduate of the College of Education’s new community education and social change undergraduate concentration

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In the fall of 2019, the UMass Amherst College of Education launched the community education and social change undergraduate concentration, a major for students interested in pursuing careers in education more broadly, inside and outside K-12 classrooms. The new concentration came just in time for Joshua Hirsh, who is now its very first graduate. 

Hirsh, who is from Scituate, Massachusetts, has been interested in education since he was young, having experienced first-hand how schools can underestimate students. “I was that kid in the class who was always getting in trouble,” he recalls. “Teachers misunderstood that my behavior was me being a bad kid, when in reality it was just me not getting the correct tools I needed to be the best version of myself.

“I was that kid in the class who was always getting in trouble. Teachers misunderstood that my behavior was me being a bad kid, when in reality it was just me not getting the correct tools I needed to be the best version of myself.”

Community education and social change prepares students to become leaders and advocates for their communities, building expertise in social justice, curriculum development, theories of learning, and models of change. “The program was designed around the social justice mission of our college, so our students gain an in-depth understanding of community advocacy and policy and they are prepared to work in the non-profit/humanitarian sector,” explains Alexandra Lackard, the College of Education’s undergraduate academic advisor. 

The major’s course of study is quite flexible, allowing students to tailor their class selections to their interests and career goals. They choose courses across six domains: social justice; interpersonal skills, communication, planning and facilitating groups; teaching and learning/pedagogy/curriculum/assessment; theories and models of change/leadership in education; research and evaluation in education; and digital technologies in education. They also build hands-on experience through a 250-hour internship, allowing them to connect classroom learning to career experience.

 “It was a very eye opening experience to talk about different people’s experience in education.”

Graduates of the community education and social change major may go on to careers as educators (although the major does not lead to a license to teach in any state), leaders, advocates, consultants, managers, and/or program and curriculum developers in such settings as higher education, academic student support services, community and philanthropic organizations, neighborhood associations, humanitarian agencies, non-profit, health, and faith-based organizations, and self-help organizations. 

It was particularly this broad view of education that drew Hirsh to the major. “Instead of just pre-K through second grade or first through sixth grade, it was more of a holistic view of issues in education and how they could start to be solved.”

Hirsh enjoyed being part of the community education and social change major’s small, close-knit community, which made the large university feel much more intimate. The support he received from faculty and staff, especially Alexandra Lackard and Mike Hanna, the college’s academic affairs coordinator, was also key in making him feel at home. He loved his classes and appreciated the diverse perspectives of his classmates. “It was a very eye opening experience to talk about different people’s experience in education,” he observes. 

For his internship, Hirsh worked for Malawi Children’s Mission, a nonprofit organization serving orphaned and vulnerable children in Malawi. He focused on development for the organization, reaching out to donors, updating databases, and conducting a data research project. Hirsh had intended to intern at Wildwood Elementary School in Amherst, but soon after he started, the COVID pandemic closed the school. During the pandemic, he also helped several families in his hometown elementary school, facilitating their children’s online learning. 

Soon after graduation, Hirsh will begin working at Apollo Elementary, a charter school in Brooklyn, New York, teaching first or second graders. He plans to teach for about ten years and then move into educational administration.

Hirsh hopes other students will take advantage of the community education and social change major’s alternative route to becoming an educator in the broadest sense of the word. “It doesn’t force you into certain grades or even teaching. You could go on to work for nonprofits, you can work for different charities, you can teach, you can do a whole number of things,” he explains. “If you like education as a whole and you’re interested in making education more equitable, it’s perfect.”

“It doesn’t force you into certain grades or even teaching. You could go on to work for nonprofits, you can work for different charities, you can teach, you can do a whole number of things. If you like education as a whole and you’re interested in making education more equitable, it’s perfect.”