I am approaching a decade of working in the Office of Graduate Admissions at Bank Street. Although I don’t have a definite sense of how many applications I’ve evaluated in that time, I imagine it is over 1,500 at this point! It has been such a treat getting to know many of our students through admissions work and an even bigger treat to see them through graduation and beyond.
Although our student population isn’t a monolith, there are a few characteristics of this group that tend to pop up in the reflective autobiography part of the application process every application cycle. What makes a “Bank Streeter” isn’t wholly defined by the principles and practices that we impart as an institution, but many applicants do come in with like-minded ideals that guide the work they—and we—do.
Applicants often reflect on their own experiences growing up. These experiences can be positive or negative, but they all provide a frame of reference for why they chose education as their career calling. I’ve read many essays from applicants to our Teaching & Learning programs who write about the impact of exceptional teachers who were responsive to their needs or, on the other end, teachers who they wished had been more attentive to their learning styles. Bank Streeters tend to be learner-centered in their practice, with a desire to put the needs of the individual to meet each student where they are.
Lifelong learning is another theme that I tend to see in the applications that come my way. I think about the introductory video that we show at our open houses. In the video, one of our graduates (and a Bank Street School for Children teacher) says, “If you’re a lone ranger, this is not the school for you.” He says this in the context of working collaboratively with others and this teamwork extends far beyond the graduate student experience. Applicants often acknowledge that their job is to educate, but also recognize that learning doesn’t stop with what the teacher says. Learning is a democratic process, and we look to others to help us expand our knowledge and help us grow, during the school years and for the rest of our lives.
This expansion of knowledge and growth is especially true when thinking about how our applicants are concerned about social justice issues. In recent years, this has become a more pressing need for many of our applicants, who mention the deep inequities that are embedded in our education system. Whether they’ve experienced it firsthand or have been witness to this inequality, our applicants have written about the desire to deepen their knowledge about the systemic ways we prevent access to education and how to combat it through their practice.
With each passing year, new ideas, experiences, and technologies will anchor an applicant’s written reflection (Zoom was definitely not prevalent when I started reading applications for Bank Street!), but there is still a core set of timeless values that find their way through. I hope that you find a little bit of yourself in some of the ideas that I mentioned, and I hope that it has encouraged you to learn more about us—this might be a good place to start. I look forward to reading your application when it comes through!