Education: A Worthy Goal

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Cornelia Beckett’14
Opinions Editor

Two summers ago, I taught school in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio and I was good at it. So good that mentors at that job, and my former teachers started encouraging me to consider a career path in teaching. I proudly shared my goal with others.

A mentor, a professor at a university in Washington, DC: “My daughter’s elementary school classroom teachers are such sweet girls… but I always saw you doing something, oh, I don’t know, more ambitious than that. Nonprofits, maybe.”

A (former) friend at Smith: “Why would someone go to Smith and just be a teacher? How stupid. You could have just gone to UMass.”

A professor at Smith: “Haven’t you considered… higher ed?”

I used to resent the feeling that Smith pushing humanities majors toward careers in social work, counseling or teaching, inevitably requiring a graduate degree in feminized labor–and it felt like they were doing this to a group of women that wouldn’t protest about being shepherded into low-paying and disrespected careers. I’ve revised that thought. Who better than conscientious, well-educated Smithies to rejuvenate and renew the pink-collar worlds of emotional labor?

A career counselor once breezily tossed off: “Of course, you’re going to go to grad school…” and more than one professor has counseled me to seek a graduate degree in the humanities. In the extremely unlikely chance that I ever got tenure, I would only hope that being a professor didn’t mean dealing with students crying during office hours while discussing career plans, as so often happens here.

I encourage students seeking their degrees in the humanities to consider teaching. The same skills that serve you well in the literature, film or art courses that you take here: skills like curiosity, making good arguments, condensing information into a good presentation, and a love of learning, can translate into a life-changing stint in front of a classroom of students.

Moreover, you don’t have to be an undergrad student in education. The students who are Education Majors at Smith are talented, dedicated future teachers, and they deserve respect for formally studying education. Best of all, they don’t necessarily need masters degrees before diving into the classroom, where we need fresh talent most. And with the inauguration of our new President Kathleen McCartney, renowned for her work with the early childhood education field, I hope that the study of education gets the respect that it deserves–instead of the colloquial and disrespectful reputation of the “easy” major.

I do urge non-Education Major Smith students to consider alternative certification programs for the classroom, such as The New Teacher Project or regional teaching fellowships. These are specifically designed for people without formal training in education, and who are either recent graduates or people transitioning from other careers. These are not only limited to humanities students, however, though informally I’ve found that those are the people most in need of a concrete direction for their careers. Math and science teachers at the middle and high school level are especially in demand, and teaching is a great way to fuse STEM know-how with people skills and social change.

There is a great need for great educators, and Smith matriculates bright, capable people every year, who are often in need of direction and purpose in an economy that devalues liberal arts degrees. I urge them to join me in considering teaching as a worthy, honorable and exciting career path.

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