They call themselves the “book group,” but that’s a misnomer. This group of alumni from the elementary teacher certification program at Antioch University New England (AUNE) gets together to talk over what goes on in their classrooms, hash out problems and offer each other advice and empathy.
“We call it ‘book group,’ but we never read a book,” said Russell Williams, a fifth-grade teacher in Brattleboro’s Green Street School. “It’s a support group in a profession that’s really hard and takes work. For us it was survival. As new teachers, who do you have to chat with, on the outside? Another teacher who can help you process the day and say, ‘Oh my gosh, that happened to me, too.'”
Twelve years later, a lively group
Twelve years after it first met, the group is going strong, meeting monthly in the Brattleboro, Vermont, area. Williams said the group got together once a week at first. “Sometimes I would leave at midnight because it felt so good to be able to state your inadequacies and have people say, “Oh, me too,’ and someone else would say ‘This worked fine for me.'”
The nucleus of the group was a class taught by Heidi Watts, core faculty member in AUNE’s Department of Education and now professor emerita. Their first meeting was intended to talk about a book by psychologist Jerome Kagan.
“It was a way for that class to get together with a potluck,” LaBrusciano said. “It led to having a potluck to discuss what happened, the victories they had and the challenges they had, dealing with administration or trying to problem solve. It became an opportunity not only to socialize but to help solve problems and get some input from others.”
The group invited LaBrusciano to join, but he doesn’t lead the group. In fact, there is no leader. “Part of the reason book group works is because there is a really good listener, and that’s Ron. He is a very good listener,” Williams said.
And it keeps LaBrusciano abreast of what’s going on in the field. “For me, I’m in the classroom a lot but I don’t have the opportunity sometimes to talk with teachers about what challenges they have,” he said. Teachers everywhere should advocate for such groups in their school systems, he said. “It’s such a valuable thing for teachers.”
Two members of the original group are still with, Williams is one of them. They are all elementary school teachers, most of them in southern Vermont, and they meet in each others’ homes or classrooms.
The format of the AUNE professional seminar also gave the group a successful start, Williams said. “For people from AUNE, it’s so easy to have a common language; we all have the idea that the lesson should be integrated and connective to the students’ lives.”