Laura Tavares ’98, Associate Program Director, Facing History and Ourselves

Laura Taveres

Both of my grandmothers left school around age 14; my parents graduated from high school; I was the first person in my family to go to college. Maybe because I understood firsthand the transformative power of education — and because I valued it as we value things we have to strive for — I could never really imagine doing anything else. What did change over time, though, was where I saw myself within the field. At Wellesley I had one of those thunderclap-lightbulb-intellectual epiphany moments in Steve Marini’s Religion 101 class in my very first semester and became a Religion major. I thought I’d like to be a college professor, and this interest in academia propelled me to Oxford University after graduation, where I was lucky to be a Rhodes Scholar. I loved my time at Oxford and did two degrees in literature and history, but I emerged thinking that I wanted to engage students at the stage when teachers had made the most difference to me — middle and high school. My first job was teaching history, literature, and World Religions at Spence, an all-girls independent school in New York City. (I was so pleased to use my college major!)  After a few years, my husband and I moved to Boston for his medical residency and I taught at Dana Hall in Wellesley. (I could work in independent schools without a certification, which was helpful because I’ve never had an education degree, just a lot of tremendous mentors and on-the-job learning.) There’s more than one entry point into teaching. If you want to work in the field of education, though, there’s no substitute for classroom experience. You’ll have more authenticity and authority in your work — whether it’s in research, policy, EdTech, or advocacy — if you’ve spent time working in a school with students. 

After about four years in the classroom I was starting to think more deeply about the connection between schools and society, feeling increasingly committed to the communal and civic purpose of schools. That's how I first encountered Facing History and Ourselves: the training and resources I found there helped me teach towards those civic aspirations every day, lesson by lesson and semester by semester. I integrated Facing History into the social studies and literature courses I was teaching and really loved how they helped me make the connection between intellect, empathy, and ethics in my classroom. 

I had become friends with some Facing History staff and when I heard there was a job open on the program staff, I applied. I was looking for a sense of career progression and wanting to venture beyond my own classroom into the broader world of education. I’ve been at Facing History for about 12 years now in a variety of positions. In my current role as Associate Program Director, my work is really varied. In a given week, I might be working with our program staff who are based around the US, Canada and the UK to design learning experiences for teachers; meeting with partner organizations to plan collaborative projects; consulting with filmmakers or scholars who want to reach students; or researching and writing about challenging issues for educators (like how to support student agency after Parkland, or how to address divisive political issues in the classroom). It’s probably unusual to stay at one place for so long, but I’ve always been able to answer ‘yes’ to a few key questions: Am I learning? Is my world getting bigger? Is my work making a difference?

As a college student thinking about my future, I didn't give much thought to how my work would be integrated with the rest of my life, but that's turned out to be very important to me. After my children were born I worked a part-time schedule, and this past year I was able to take a 4 month leave to travel around the world with my husband and daughters (who are now 8 and 11 years old). I feel lucky to have the opportunity to grow professionally and take on leadership roles while also having a rich life outside of work.