Schoenberger: Teaching Leadership

Vote for the person who will inspire the next generation of leaders.

| 11/8/16 12:15am

For many Dartmouth students, this November will mark the first time they cast a ballot in a presidential election. Today, students will be lined up outside Hanover High School to pull a lever that will determine the course of our nation — no pressure for you first-time voters.

As a recent Dartmouth graduate and current pre-K special education teacher in New York City, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this election — how it will impact my students’ futures and be retold in their history books. Fifty years from now, we will look back on this time — the segregation, the racism, the xenophobia, the inequity and the denial of many of the aforementioned discriminations — and we will tell our children, and our children’s children, that we lived it.

What we say to them is up to us. That is why I decided to become a teacher.

I spent my Dartmouth career as a pre-medical student, hoping to someday provide medical care to low-income families. However, by junior year I knew I couldn’t attend medical school without first understanding the shortcomings of our healthcare system up-close. I couldn’t go back to the classroom without first following my passions in an immediate, tangible way. So I applied, and was accepted to, Teach For America. There, I was given the unique opportunity to become a leader immediately after graduation and to teach and learn from the community I hope to serve for my entire career: children with disabilities.

Now that I’m an early childhood education teacher, I realize that the future of our country lies squarely in the classroom, mine included. As low-income children of color with special needs, my students and their families know all too well the systemic racism that has come to the forefront of our nation’s story. This particular election has made me feel that the lessons we teach our youngest learners — behavioral regulation, honesty, kindness and consideration for others — have a newfound sense of urgency.

When I think about these lessons, two students come to mind: Jenny and Omar. From a young age, our education system failed to give them the support they deserve, so they arrived in my classroom drastically behind their peers in many areas. Despite the fact that their disabilities prevented the two from ever having a verbal conversation, Omar and Jenny developed a special bond. As the year went on, Omar’s challenging behavior improved and Jenny thrived as a member of our classroom. As a teacher, there is no greater joy than watching your students build each other up. If Omar and Jenny are the leaders of our next generation, we will be in good hands.

I believe there will be a day when my students are the ones running for president. I know there will be a day when the Time 100 list of the most influential Americans includes my students Amari, Javier and Jaslyn — but we have to be part of the generation making that possible.

When we think about how this election will go down in history, we have two choices: We can tell the next generation that we lived it, but we couldn’t find the answers. We can tell them that we chose stagnation over progress and emerged with no true path towards justice.

Today, we must ensure our country’s moral arc continues bending towards justice for all. Empowering our students to change the world starts by giving them real-world examples of leaders who look and sound like them (thanks, Obama). Our children must be equipped to become the next generation of leaders — a process that starts years before they first hear the words “government” or “president.” There is no doubt in my mind that, given quality education, love and support, our students will create a drastically different future than the one we have today.

Or, we can tell them that we lived it and we changed it.

Through the chaos of midterms, group projects and labs, make time to head to your polling place today. And as you consider how you’ll make your impact after graduation, I ask you to think beyond yourself. Don’t just be a leader — create the next generation of leaders.