Category Archives: Bank Street Academics

What are Ocassional Papers?

Do you know about Bank Street’s Occasional Papers? You might have seen some posters near the oft-traveled elevators, announcing the addition of a new Occasional Paper. I was intrigued when I first saw one of these postings, but also reluctant to take a look because I had plenty to read already. However, I took some time over the summer to read a few of these papers, and now I find myself returning to them in between readings for classes. They offer different points of view, historical context to educational issues, and even contain some exploration of taboo subjects. Take this paper, by Bank Street graduate Cilo Stearns. She connects a few of her teaching experiences to research by Cohler and Galatzer-Levy (2006), who write about eroticism between teacher and student playing a role in effective teaching practice. While it might sound offensive in abstract, the essay is reflective, based in professional research, and absorbing to read.

Drawing With Milo,” by Jared Rosello, continues the adventurous nature of Occasional Papers by being written as a graphic novel. Graphic novels are commonly thought of as similar to a comic book but with richer, darker story lines. Some, including renown comic book artist Alan Moore, find that the term “graphic novel” is merely a new name for “comic book,” and that adult…

“…readers latched on to it; they were simply interested in [finding] a way that could validate their continued love of Green Lantern or Spider-Man without appearing in some way emotionally subnormal.”

Those are strong, and somewhat judgemental words to criticize the genre and its fans by.  I hope readers here would consider that Rosello’s work seems to challenge those words in many ways. The subject material is emotionally rich, and Rosello cites references to sources throughout, the way an academic essay might. Rosello also fills his work with the type of reflection we practice here at Bank Street. For example, he writes about his thought process working with Milo and what transpired. He incorporates into the story what he could have done differently, and if his goals changed and why. On another level, it is a graphic novel about making comic books – a clever metacognitive idea which to me suggests Rosello grasps the disagreements by critics about the validity of comic books and graphic novels as legitimate literature.

In my experience working with students who have literacy challenges, graphic novels have served as a gateway to larger concepts like theme and character development. The drawbacks have been that students rely heavily on drawings for comprehension instead of text inferences. If you are enticed to take a look at Rosello’s work, head on over here …if this leads you to browse some non-graphic novel Occasional Papers, here we have an example of how the graphic novel can engage the curious or reluctant reader!


Supervised Fieldwork Demystified

These are questions I often hear about Supervised Fieldwork at Bank Street:
  • How does Bank Street help you get your placement? 
  • When do you find out?
  • What do you do when you find out?
  • How do you survive a year with no income?
  • What’s the best part of it?

Supervised Fieldwork

As I approached the end of my first year of Bank Street, I met with my supervisor about supervised field work placements. I described my previous experience in schools, plus any concerns I had about where I would be placed. Staying in touch over the next few weeks, there were a few forms to fill out, including one that asks where you live in the city. In the late spring, my supervisor organized a get together for students going into supervised field work and those currently in it. In true Bank Street style, snacks and iced tea were provided. The students shared their current experience and fielded questions as well.

Then, in late June or early July, I received an email with my placement information. My supervisor suggested I email the teachers I’d be working with, but warned that I may not hear back until closer to the school year was to begin. That was true, but I took it upon myself to take a look at the school’s website and get to know the schedule and name of the principal. I sent both teachers I would start with an email, as well as the principal.

I then had to go to the Department of Education and get fingerprinted (it was at 65 Court St, Brooklyn at the time). I also had to get some paper work done by signing up online with the Department of Education. You have to input the school’s information in your online profile, which you create, and print a letter saying you’re approved. That whole process took about an hour, and it was great to have the whole summer to do it! Then I heard back from the teachers and principal with some starting dates, and enjoyed a week or two more of vacation before starting at the end of August.

The school is very close to where I live, and it really does feel like a good “fit” for me, from a personality and professional standpoint. I feel that my supervisor listened to what I had to say and picked a good school. I am  comfortable there but also feel like I am expanding my teaching experience with new challenges. Field work is 4 days a week for me. For some programs it is 3 days a week. The supervised fieldwork is for pretty much all of the school year – it ends in early June. My advisor will come in periodically and observe me teaching a lesson, then give feedback on the spot as well as written notes later.

A big challenge that was on my mind at the time of organizing supervised fieldwork was how I was going to finance myself for the year. I met with the financial aid office ahead of time and they were very helpful in making sure my loan information was correct. Once I filled out some forms there I received a letter with a very clear breakdown of how much money I could receive for living expenses via a GradPlus loan. I requested just enough to cover rent, bills, and groceries. Most grad students I talk to in supervised fieldwork have picked up little odds and ends jobs like tutoring or subbing, coaching or teaching musical lessons after school hours or on the weekends to supplement the living allowance from the loan.

So far, the best part of supervised fieldwork is meeting with my conference group. Every Wednesday, we meet at Bank Street, much like any other class would, but there are only 6 of us and our supervisor. It is a very positive environment that can range from a vent session to serious lesson planning ideas. You’ll be able to reflect, share, and get ideas to try out next time. It’s stress free and I look forward to it very much every week.

Hopefully this answers some of your questions. Many people already have a job before doing this, and that transition is hard for sure. But you’ll quickly get into your new role and routine. I’ll be sure to write again once the experience is over, and talk about the ending of the experience!

All the World is a Stage

Recently I attended a performance of Don Cristobal, the Spanish version of Punch and Judy, at the Abrons Arts Center. I went in with no expectations and little information about the show other than that it involved puppets. In the small experimental theater, that perhaps sat 100 people, I soon fell under the spell of the charming cast and the universal story of unrequited love.

As I watched, my mind volleyed from incredulity at how adept the puppeteers were in making the Cristobal puppet seem like a real person, to marvelling at the actors’ ability to employ their imaginations and activate those of the audience.

This naturally made me think of dramatic play with young children. Recently in Curriculum for Early Childhood Education, a course I am taking with Sal Vascellaro, we discussed the value in dramatic play for children. Giving children time, space, and materials to explore experiences that are new to them, allows them to make sense of their world. The opportunity to recreate scenes and roles provides children with a medium for problem solving skills, socializing, and building their confidence. When I worked with five-year-olds, I would regularly observe them pretending to be superheroes, monsters, and zombies at recess time, which likely demonstrated their desire to be powerful beings, able to do things that children cannot or are not allowed to do.


As I have pondered the importance of dramatic play, I have found myself questioning why it seems that as children grow, such play diminishes. In fact, unless an older child, teenager or adult takes an active interest in acting, they often do not participate in dramatic play again. Could dramatic play benefit people of all ages?

In my opinion, it could, and not just particularly for educators trying to capture the attention of their students. Imagining, or playing with concepts of reality can be a very powerful excursion for the mind, creating new perspectives, and even fostering compassion (you can’t know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes). As standardized testing and curriculum cause ever-increasing pressures in the classroom, it seems that the battle to dedicate time to dramatic play is tougher than ever, though not impossible to win. And the benefits are worth fighting for.  As the Association for Childhood Education International states “No adult instruction can take the place of children’s own activities and experiences through continual play.”

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.


Learning About Ourselves, Through Museums

One of my favorite aspects of my Bank Street education is the emphasis on learning through doing. For my program of study, this not only means placements within classrooms, but also plenty of experiences in museums and cultural institutions.

When you visit a museum, there is not only the opportunity to learn about new art, peoples, or history, but also yourself. You can draw connections between exhibits and your life, and discover new perspectives. Personally, I have found it extremely enriching to be able to visit museums with my cohort. They interject fresh ideas and inquiry into any subject matter.

Our first trip together was to the Weeksville Heritage Center, one of the few remaining historical sites of pre-Civil War African-American communities tucked away in Brooklyn. Hearing about the struggles of the people who created this community was inspiring, especially being able to stand in the very homes of the people who worked together to fight for justice.

On our tour of the houses, we were asked to find a buddy and discuss how the houses were similar and different to those that we grew up in. I thought that was a brilliant, simple exercise to help us get acquainted. There may not have been an organic opportunity to discuss such history with my peers. As John Dewey believed, “all human experience is ultimately social, it involves contact and communication.” What we learn or feel from an experience only deepens when we share it with others, and we gain insight from their experience as well.

Before long, as a student at Bank Street, you will become familiar with the work of John Dewey. An educational reformer in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Dewey was a major advocate of progressive education. He believed that all students perform better when they are afforded an active role in their curriculum. In other words, Dewey would not be happy to see rows of students completing pages of photocopied work.

I am sure that as I continue in my path at Bank Street I will become more and more steeped in experiential learning. My professors model the theory they teach, and in the trips they lead us on, show us how to lead our future students. It’s given me a whole new appreciation for museums and cultural institutions, for which I already thought I had a deep appreciation.

Student Teaching

I have been student teaching at a private school for the past nine weeks. This placement was arranged by my course advisor, who was kind enough to take into consideration how long my commute would be. It was up to my cooperating teacher and me to discuss my schedule. Due to my courses, this turned out to be Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, from 8:30 AM to 3:20PM – basically the entire school day.

My cooperating teacher was very eager to have me actively teaching, and I found myself at the helm of a descriptive writing unit. It was wonderful to help the students create their own versions of Little Red Riding Hood, and see them develop from web graphs to multiple paragraphs.

In my student teaching placement, I interacted with many fine additions to my realm of influence everyday. My cooperating teacher has a wealth of knowledge, not only in terms of this private school, but also the public school system, where she previously taught. She has a contagious, enthusiastic approach to teaching, and a strong and versatile character that has carried her through both school systems, and allows her to field anything that springs up during a school day.

There is so much to learn from in a placement beyond the actual curriculum. Relationships between teachers and other professionals in the building afford insight into how much work goes into keeping a school functioning healthily for the benefit of the students. I love to see great teachers succeeding in relating their lesson content, learning from each other and even enjoying working together!

And I can’t forget the kids. They are first and last the inspiration and my reason for pursing education. The fifth graders I am teaching inspire me with their fresh outlooks, their curiosity, and their lighthearted nature. They remind me to lighten up and try to see things from different angles. With this experience, I discovered that I am far more comfortable standing at the front of the room than I anticipated, and I love to encourage children to think more deeply.

It’s amazing the impact you can have on a class without even realizing it. On my last day, one student bashfully said to me, in response to my departure, “Who’s gonna listen to me?” I had no idea that my moments with him, revising his writing webs and talking about vikings, actually meant more to him. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to that placement.

Camaraderie at Bank Street

At Bank Street, I am part of a cohort within my degree program. Our professors encourage us to help each other. My program, Museum Education, involves many excursions to museums and cultural institutions. I think such off-campus experiences encourage a more organic type of bonding.

Even after just one in-class session for each course, and one day off-site, I was confident that my peers would be a great source of advice that I can feel free to utilize. I think that I am also someone who can help my peers along their path, too.

Here at Bank Street, my cohort inspires me in countless ways. When we bring our different backgrounds as educators together, we cannot help but offer varied techniques and approaches. Their experiences inform and enrich my current practice and will be embedded in my future approach. Not only that, but many of them currently have ties to museums and cultural institutions. I’ve already observed a peer in action, teaching children at a science center.

My professors are themselves an endless source of inspiration. They have beautiful careers that they are still excited about. Their passion is palpable! It makes all the difference in the world to be educated by those who are passionate about the field you want to enter. Not only do they inspire me in terms of being an educator, but also a lifelong learner.