Doug Rubenstein MS Ed '15
Los Angeles, CA



E-mail Denisha


What prompted you to pursue a graduate degree?

Upon arriving at Sarah Lawrence for the first time as an undergraduate, I had realized how much I missed my family and I was searching for a physical outlet. I joined the swim team because my mother was a swimmer and I felt more connected to her because of it. My coach at the time thought that I had some promise as a swim teacher and the idea really stuck with me. I had always had a connection with children that I had never given much weight to. My second semester I began teaching swim lessons and I fell in love with it. Soon thereafter, I got a job teaching swim lessons at UCLA.

When I got back to Sarah Lawrence the next fall, I expressed interest in teaching Spanish to children as a conference project, and my don, Isabel De Sena, introduced me to the Art of Teaching program. In an effort to connect me with a supporting school that would host me as a student teacher, she ominously wrote down a name for me and said, “E-mail her. She is the director of the Art of Teaching program.” The name she gave me was Sara Wilford; she was the director of the program at the time. I e-mailed her. I put down the appointment in my schedule. I got to her building early but I still managed to get lost and nervous, and arrived late. I met with her, and watched her listen to my flimsy proposal with the kindest blue eyes I’ve still ever seen. Sara was intrigued with my idea and thought that it would be a great success. So she picked up the phone right away and started making phone calls right then and there with me. She casually phoned principals of schools, the registrar’s office, and faculty around the school. What really hit me was that in the midst of her calm efficiency, I kept hearing sentences like, “I have Doug Rubenstein here, and we were curious about what time you might be free for a meeting.” I had been in her office for 10 minutes and already she made me feel a part of something important and that I, too, already had what it took to be successful. Sara effectively put in pen the semester I had only considered in pencil, and before long I was sitting in the backseat of her car on my way to a private meeting with her and the principal of an elementary school in Yonkers. Sara moved quickly, but with a regal grace. I knew I was in safe and caring hands.

How did graduate school fit into your life at the time?

At the time, I was an undergraduate student at Sarah Lawrence and made my transition into the program during my senior year as part of the five-year master's program option. I started the Art of Teaching program soon after I came back from my junior year abroad in Italy. I attended summer school the month after I had come back into the country; I had to hit the ground running to fulfill the various prerequisites. Then, after the summer, I came back to campus as a senior living in Andrews Court ready to officially begin the program I had been preparing for.

The year was intense. I had an already full schedule of classes from the Art of Teaching program, but still decided to take advantage of the extra class option that is granted to seniors. So I enrolled in the Book Arts class that I had been waiting for since I was a first-year student. It was exactly what I needed, and it helped me tremendously in balancing myself academically and creatively.

I was doing a lot of extracurricular activities—singing in the men’s a cappella group, captain of the swim team, fulfilling academic prerequisites, book arts, teaching swim lessons—and they seemed to heavily complicate my life at times, but they were all highly valuable resources to me during my time in the program. These activities gave me time to mull things over, to hone my opinions and learn my values. If school is squishing grapes, the extra curriculars were the fermentation period, and I’d like to think I’m drinking the wine right about now.

Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence College for your graduate studies?

I chose Sarah Lawrence College for the same reasons I chose it for my undergraduate education: the degree to which the individual is valued at Sarah Lawrence is remarkable. The small classes and personalized attention made me feel valid, important, and intelligent, which was not always the case in my history with school. And the graduate curriculum was rich with philosophy, theory, examples, and applied experience.

What role did the Sarah Lawrence faculty play in your time here?

I’m a little overwhelmed at this question because I fear that my response will not do them proper justice. I am still very much seeing their lessons, hearing their words, and feeling their support. The incomparable time in the classroom with them was not only finely tuned and brilliant, but it was also about all of the time that we spent together outside of the classroom and the connections forged between us as peers and humans. Learning with the Art of Teaching professors is lifelong work; it is a partnership.

What experience as an Art of Teaching student had the greatest impact on you?

No one experience comes to mind. Rather, it is the whole ethos of the Art of Teaching community that really sticks with me. We students were always taken care of whether it was academically or personal. We were part of a community that unconditionally supported us toward achieving our goals. I felt safe. I felt challenged. I still visit to keep feeling safe, and to understand my new teaching experiences.

How did your coursework prepare you for your fieldwork and student teaching, and how did that experience prepare you to enter the profession?

There is something quite unique and circular about this program. The teachers teach teaching. As a student, we learn learning. The practices and ideas that we learn are experienced deeply because, as teachers, we are students in that classroom environment at Sarah Lawrence. And that never changes. One of the most integral values that we learn as teachers is that there is always more to learn.

Our coursework prepared me in many invaluable ways. One of the most important ways was though learning about myself as a learner, and in turn how that translates to who I am as a teacher. We are taught to understand that the teacher, just like the students, is already who he or she is. Knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses as a teacher—and human—is ultimately the most powerful tool because it is who we are, and we bring all of ourselves into the classroom whether we intend to or not. Accepting the complete map of oneself allows for informed navigation of the hills, valleys, rivers, trenches, tundras, and deserts of our lives.

We also read a large body of educational and child development theory. I was surprised at how helpful this was. While, as I learned from my experiences in schools, education often does not follow the best practices I learned about, I have a foundation from which to continue to reach toward maximizing the potential of each child.

While often challenging, my student teaching placements taught me much of what I find valuable in my classroom today. Student teaching had its highs and lows. A huge benefit was not having responsibility for directing the class so I could dive into class activities and spend intensive time with children and faculty I saw I could learn from. Conversely, I sometimes felt underappreciated, without authority, and simply clueless. I often had to say “Oh no, sorry, I’m the student teacher. I don’t know where the teacher is. I think she’ll be back?...”  

We were given full semester placements in two different public schools, as well as work at the Sarah Lawrence Early Childhood Center (ECC). We followed students over time as they learned and saw how experienced teachers organized their classrooms and dealt with problems, students, and parents. I cannot imagine taking on a full teaching role such as I have now without having experienced my student teaching placements.

Where did you do your fieldwork and student teaching?

I worked at the Early Childhood Center in the Threes class with Robbin Hawkins, and I was lucky enough to work in that classroom for the whole school year and into the summer as well. The ECC was an incredible resource for me because I was able to apply everything that felt theoretical in class, and watch it play out in a classroom on campus. It actualized my education. It was an invauable reasource to have alongside my graduate studies.

In addition, I student taught at two different schools: the Brooklyn New School and Central Park East I. Although I was working with older children in these schools, the foundation that I had received at the ECC prepared me well with the sensitivity, vocabulary, and patience I relied on as a student teacher and still informs my success today.

What is life like as a graduate student at Sarah Lawrence?

For my first year as a grad student I was still a senior as an undergraduate, and I was still living on campus. So my commute was pretty ideal.

For the summer proceeding my undergraduate commencement I lived in an apartment on Midland Avenue (which is just down the street from campus) that I was subletting from a friend. That made it comfortable to continue working at the ECC and attending classes.

After that summer had wrapped up, I moved into a charmingly decrepit apartment in Gowanus with my best friend. Most of my socializing and relationship forging happened in that apartment with her, our cat, and mutual friends.

Developing an active social life during that time had its difficulties; my party trick was listing off my favorite quotes from children that I had heard recently, discussing the institutionalized barriers hampering brilliant students’ blossoming, and talking about how I felt trapped because I thought that I was the only person who could see these issues. I know what you’re thinking— quite the party animal.

I was in a unique possition at that time because I was living away from Sarah Lawrence for the first time, but I was still under her wing. The whole year felt like a slowly eased transition, but rightfully so due to how demanding it was physically and, especially, emotionally. Friendships were tested, passions were doubted, new skills were born. We are always in transition. We are always in between. This was the first year I began to feel the profound highs and lows of transition, and I spent countless hours letting the F train rock me to sleep through it all.

What impact did the proximity of New York City have on your experience?

The proximity of New York City to campus impacted me and my studies in a comforting yet stimulating way. I was able to get on a train and sway through the trees and underground to arrive at a gold and turquoise ceiling where so much of the world came to visit. I had access to a boundless city, and I was able to bring back the treasures from my travels into the safe corners of my Sarah Lawrence home.

What is the strongest attribute of Sarah Lawrence College's Art of Teaching program?

The love. Every person associated with the Art of Teaching program is passionate about people and the success of each individual, as realized through teaching and learning. I consistently felt appreciated, seen, loved, and, above all, truly understood.

What advice can you offer to prospective graduate students?

The only advice that I would give is to let go of the idea that there is a right way to do something. Each one of us comes from our own unique background of human experience, and trying to qualify or quantify what an experience should be or could be separates you from what is important: the gift of the present moment. The gift of looking inside of you and re-learning yourself. This program has a sensitively profound way of making us understand ourselves better in the process of learning how to understand children. Be present. Love yourself. Trust yourself.

What are you up to now?

I am currently the lead teacher for the Fours and Fives “Big Kids” class at a preschool on the Upper West Side. This school is very much of the Sarah Lawrence mindset regarding progressive education and self-identifies not under one specific educational philosophy, but rather as a pedogogic mosaic. We are a classroom of 20 children, three teachers, and one auxiliary teacher. We go to great lengths to understand each individual student holistically through the Prospect descriptive review process. The students and the teachers have a comforting sense of continuity because most of the students (and their teachers) have been in the school for several years. We all work together in an environment that feels safe, supportive, loving, and understanding.