It’d been whispered a time or two that educators often need therapy. Not the lay-on-a-chaise-and-spill-all-your-existential-crises-out-to-a-doctor kind of therapy (although there’s nothing wrong with that). No, more like the kind of therapy anyone needs after a taxing day (or a couple of days) of hard work. Teaching is not easy— it’s a juggling act propelled by a passion to facilitate human exploration and discovery of our world in the most effective, educative ways possible. A relaxing bath, a glass of wine, and some time with friends are always welcome therapeutic or cathartic diversions after a long week.
As it turns out, venting and decompressing are requirements at Bank Street. The practice models the tenets of teaching inappropriate, judgment-free ways by making sure all graduate students are offered grounds on which to thoroughly express themselves and unwind while learning. For Bank Street’s master’s programs, supervised fieldwork comes with a weekly built-in support group designed to express personal opinions and experiences to forge deep connections with peers going through much of the same struggles.
Conference group— the analytical and contemplative part of supervised fieldwork, has served to provide a confidential space where the group and I could vent about our week, talk about specific challenges in our schools or classrooms, and hear other teachers’ ideas. It’s an organic learning environment where I have learned so much just by being there. The group is made up of seven Bronx Cohort students— knitting us closer via shared experiences.
Aside from being able to vent and tell each other about our week in the classroom, we’ve made it a feast— sharing a sort of potluck dinner every session while we converse. I always look forward to Westside Market soup, salad, cookies. Denise— our advisor— lays out a lovely table runner and gives us handkerchiefs embroidered with delicate flowers. Not that crying happens very often— or does it? The gesture speaks to the intimacy we strive to build during conference group. She adds another dimension by bringing in thought-provoking readings and excerpts or quotes to discuss and tie back to our experiences in the field. We talk about world events such as politics, and equity (or inequity as it were) — status quo social injustices we and our students experience as minorities. We talk about culture (our own and others’). We touch upon religion— things that can be forbidden elsewhere may be picked apart and reflected upon within the confines of the group, dissected to achieve better understanding. Most importantly, these things that make up fiery, real discussions are always applied to our roles as teachers and the complexities of navigating different children and families with utmost respect and acceptance.
We’ve discussed every affair related to our lives as teachers and our lives as women and everything else we are. We’ve talked about everything from being overwhelmed, feeling alone, tired, and stressed, to what constitutes curriculum and personal teaching practices. We celebrate any good thing that’s happened in our personal lives, the lives of our classrooms, our schools, or in our students’ learning.
Sometimes the sessions followed a perceptible flow of conversation characterized by consistent, related anecdotes and ideas. Other times, a million tangents and laughter emblazoned the meeting with vivid strokes of firework colors. Conference group is an essential part of any graduate program— in it, we can all draw a collective breath.