Monthly Archives: January 2013

Student Teaching

A very imagespecial and practical portion of being a graduate student at Bank Street is student teaching. For my program, Museum Education, students have two different student teaching placements in the Fall semester, and a placement in a museum or cultural institution in the Spring.

As a policy, Bank Street places student teachers in both independent and public schools and at different parts of the age range. I had two different student teaching opportunities. My first placement was in a fifth grade in an independent school that is known for students entering top-tier universities and colleges. My second placement was in a second grade class in a public school, where an emphasis on music meant that every child played at least one instrument.

In both instances, the teachers I worked with were very welcoming and understanding of my needs as a graduate student. They both had once been in my shoes (and one even completed the same program that I am in at Bank Street!). Both teachers allowed me space to actually teach and be an involved member of the classroom community. I also had the opportunity to sit in on meetings with other teachers and staff members.

These were invaluable chances to see all of the things that we discuss in class at Bank Street in their practical application. Educational theory and strategies truly can only come alive when there are children involved! These firsthand experiences built into our coursework allow us to try out our developing approach to teaching, and make alterations before we become teachers of our own classrooms (or school groups in museums). I also find it extremely beneficial just to have the opportunity to see various teachers’ classroom environments and observe how they conduct lessons, manage their classrooms and even hear how they use language.

While I certainly had trying days throughout my placements, I wondered if I was cut out for this field but ultimately the number of good days prevailed. For every time I thought my words were going unheard, or my idea fell flat on delivery during a lesson, days or sometimes weeks later a child would say or do something that would show me that my efforts were did make a difference. Twice, very quiet kids who expressed their appreciation for the impact I made on their learning surprised me, and I will never forget that. In the course of a day, a week or a month, if within one child there seemed to ignite a spark, somehow due to my influence, it made any frustration or second-guessing well worth it, and reminded me that I am where I should be.

I don’t think that student teaching is easy – and I don’t think it should be. If it is, you’re probably only skimming the surface and not making the most of the opportunity before you. It’s only with the challenges, such as engaging a room full of eleven-year-olds, that I felt I really learned the deepest lessons.

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What’s A Conference Group?

Every Wednesday afternoon throughout student teaching last semester, I met with my conference group. Led by our advisor (who is also our professor), five other students and myself discuss our placements, our coursework and any other relevant (and sometimes less than relevant) issues.

Typically, we meet in an office (on one occasion we attended a discussion at the Rubin Museum). For two hours we chat over a table spread with various snacks – this is far from a formal atmosphere. This isn’t a course in which you ultimately earn a grade, though you do earn course credit, and attendance is key.

I have found that this group adds a unique richness to my overall experience at Bank Street. I like hearing about the student teaching experiences of my peers – their triumphs and challenges. It’s also nice to have a platform for sharing my experiences, with people who understand what it is like to be in a similar environment, attempting to achieve similar goals.

If anybody is going to understand your trials and tribulations in becoming a teacher, these are the people. We exchange advice on how to teach a particular lesson, how to finagle a behavioral issue, or even tips on courses to register for or job hunting. I also like to think that my conference group offer me a chance to get out of my head and try another way of thinking.  I don’t know about you, but I try not to get too bogged down in my approach – to teaching, to life! – and nothing helps more than hearing other people’s perspectives.

In fact, there are two people in my conference groupwho are further along in their program and are a wealth of knowledge on different courses in my program – museum education. They are also seasoned experts on interning in museums in this city, having been born and raised here and having been intent on working in this field for a long time.

Time for these quality conversations can be difficult to find during our actual classes. Conference group is a way to foster deeper connections between us, and make us think about what we might have yet to discover in each other. We are all a wealth of resources, but we won’t know it unless we try to get to know each other. Not only that, meeting with just a handful of others encourages both intimacy and discussion. It can be a lot less daunting to speak before five people rather than the twenty-five in a regular class.

In the Museum Education program, supervised fieldwork placements in museums happen during the Spring semester. I am really eager to attend my conference group as we embark on our new placements. I have a feeling that we are all in for an exciting period of adjustment, transferring to professional environments where we are more likely to be working on grants than helping eight-year-olds spell words. I’m looking forward to visiting each other’s institutions this Spring!

Congratulations! You’re In!

A few months before I began my first summer term at Bank Street, I attended an admitted students event that the graduate admissions office held. It was a great opportunity to meet other people new to Bank Street. I’m glad that such events are held, because they give you a chance to make some acquaintances before your first class.

When I walked into the room where it was held, and applied my name tag, everyone was already excitedly chatting in little groups. Refreshments were available and there were perhaps twenty people there. I remember pausing to look at the literature I was handed, and while perusing it, a lovely person came over to me who had noticed from my name tag that we would be in the same program. She is someone in my cohort now, and is a welcome warm presence every week.

I met another person from my cohort that day who I was able to chat with and learned that he had a similar experience working with preschoolers before coming to Bank Street. He turned out to be an interesting presence in my cohort, and I think we’ve taught each other a lot. In many ways we are opposites – he is very vocal and able to hold the spotlight, whereas I, while not shy about sharing my thoughts, tend to be more of a listener and observer. One of my professors noted that there is potential in this difference, and despite challenges that have occasionally arisen from trying to learn together, I agree with her, and I’m glad we’re in the same cohort.

That same day, I registered, in person and it was quite easy. I felt very confident in the advice I was given by my advisor, and appreciated that she knew my background and used that information to plan what would make the most sense for the structure of my courses. For instance, since I already had classroom experience, I was able to do my student teaching in my first year, whereas many students don’t do fieldwork until their second.

I highly recommend attending the accepted student event. Any chance you have to meet more people in the Bank Street community you should take. It certainly helped me to know a few friendly faces on the first day of class.