At Cornell, an undergraduate dreaming of being a middle school teacher is rare, at least in the College of Arts and Sciences. While my friends have been accepted to prestigious PhD programs or have big city career plans, I know my own strengths would be best for a classroom — and oh, am I proud of this! Teaching is heroic.
While we Cornell students are the next generation of leaders, there is a group of children and teenagers who have developmentally suffered greatly under the pandemic, creating a severe education crisis. These kids, too, will inherit our tumultuous world. Transgender children have been suddenly objectified and dehumanized by a right-winged culture war. Teachers are being asked to protect children’s psychological peace and very lives against gun violence. Because of these pressures and low pay, there is a serious teacher shortage in many areas of the U.S.
I imagine that being a teacher today requires toughness and great fortitude. Not only do teachers have to process the ills of the world as any engaged citizen does, but they also process politics and current events alongside bright-eyed children. On top of managing the learning and emotional needs of children, teachers are tasked with questions from kids like: Why do people shoot up schools? Who are refugees? Will the Earth survive human pollution?
After wrapping up my honors thesis which centers writing as an important act of self-becoming, I realize that teaching kids to write is a great act of service. I know that in moments of writing short essays and poems in middle school, I came into myself by learning how to apply my ethical values or moral education to global issues.
Writing soothes my anxiety about the world as I practice problem-solving on the page. For an older child, my feeling is that writing will soothe any anxiety about being a person at all. If a child is comfortable with writing about themselves and the world, they may learn about what they care about and be confident in who they are becoming.
At Cornell, we’re working through issues like balancing academic freedom with community values and student emotional wellbeing. The closer a relationship we have with writing and self-expression, the more conversations around free speech will stem from a place of compassionate intelligence rather than fear, anger or alienation from one another — this goes for any perspective on the matter. Learning about self-advocacy and community-advocacy starts early.
As university students, and especially those of us who are graduating, I’ve also been concerned about what kind of culture we have been creating or trailblazing. Our impact on this world, in this moment, is not somehow separate from kids and adolescents’ experiences. We are the future, but we are also simultaneously role models for the future. You don’t have to become a teacher to model compassion and good listening for your community. But as our country’s conscience rapidly grows, I hope to teach as medicine for any fear and disempowerment a growing child may experience in this strange world.
If you are someone who likes to discuss ideas, who has patience and compassion for little ones, consider teaching. Consider how you would not be the person you are today without your teachers, who may have offered you an example of critical thinking or real-life kindness. Kids and their parents are in desperate need of support, intellectually and emotionally. Use your Cornell education to pass your privilege of a quality education forward; teach economics in high school, Spanish in grade school — whatever you love, you can teach it.
Emma Plowe is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. With Gratitude runs every other Tuesday this semester.