Teaching as a path to equality

Education, said the 19th century school reformer Horace Mann, is “the great equalizer.” Lindsay Cieslik ’13 believes in that equalizing power, and that’s why she wants to teach.

At the age of 21, Cieslik has already gained teaching experience in Tanzania, in South Africa, and here in Norton, where she is currently a student teacher in a fourth-grade classroom at the Henri A. Yelle Elementary School. Later this year, she will broaden that experience as she heads to Malaysia as an English Language Teaching Assistant under the Fulbright program.

She realizes that public education in the U.S. is far from equitable. “I think that, so far, many education reforms have been band-aid fixes, meaning they are just covering up the problem instead of finding the root of it,” she says. “We need to find the root of the problem and fix it. One way I believe that can happen is by putting the right teachers in the right classrooms.”

Cieslik, who wants to work with low-income urban students, has long drawn inspiration from the teachers in her own life—first in her early years, then at Wheaton, and then in a township outside of Grahamstown, South Africa, where she studied abroad during her junior year.

She had her first international teaching experience in Tanzania, East Africa, during the Wheaton summer course, “Tanzania: Education and Development,” taught by Anthropology Professor Donna Kerner. Then, during her semester in South Africa, Cieslik volunteered at the Little Flower Preschool, which had been started by four local women on their own initiative.

“They saw the need for early education in their township and banded together to form the school in an old house,” says Cieslik. “I was completely humbled by these women. They were bettering the lives of children and doing so for no pay and with sparse resources.”

Cieslik, who is a Community Scholar, came to Wheaton with a budding interest in teaching and soon “fell in love with the ‘community feel’ in the Education Department. I felt very supported by my professors and classmates.” She decided on a psychology major and a minor in elementary education.

She began “thinking globally” as early as grade school, attending the Madison (Wisconsin) Country Day School. The school drew its curriculum from around the world, depending on where student achievement was highest. That meant a math program from Singapore, a science program from Japan and a music theory curriculum from Great Britain.

In applying for a Fulbright teaching assistantship, Cieslik chose Malaysia because she had never visited an Asian country and wanted to broaden her global experience. “I wanted to challenge myself by teaching and living in a culture that’s totally different from my own,” she says. “I am excited to learn more about how the Malaysian education system works and to learn new approaches and ways of thinking about education.”

After her year in Malaysia, Cieslik wants to return to the States and teach in an urban school for a few years, then pursue a master’s degree in education. It’s all part of her quest to be the best teacher she can for the students with the greatest needs.

“The public education system can be used to make a huge difference in students’ lives,” she says. “As teachers, we must be advocates for our students’ needs and rights, and I fear that sometimes students in low-income schools are not fought for to the extent they should be. I want to make a difference, and I have chosen education as the path that will help me make our world a better and happier place to live.”