A very special 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.