SMU senior on graduating, giving back through teaching

By Emily Towler

Senior year is turning out to be everything I hoped it would. I’m taking classes with all of my favorite professors, the Chi Omega Make-A-Wish fashion show was a success, and I can finally get into the Green Elephant every Thursday. The only downside to this year? The fact that I have to graduate in May.

If you had asked me to guess three years ago what I would be doing at this time senior year, I would have told you I’d be studying for the LSAT and working to get into the best law school possible. But once I got to SMU, a different path started to present itself.

I grew up in Tulsa, Okla., a city where legend has it that for every mile north of downtown you travel, the average ACT score of students in the zip code drops by one. Even as a kid, I knew these huge disparities in public education in my hometown were unfair and wrong, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it.

Then during freshman year, I volunteered at KIPP Truth Academy. I quickly realized that there are serious transformations that need to happen in our education system – and that I want to be a part of them.

This change of heart led me to Teach For America and the career I’ll begin in education this fall. Everything about it makes me anxious. Will I be good enough for the kids? How can I serve them when their most basic needs aren’t met? But I’m sustained by what I know. Education isn’t serving every kid in this country. We’ve got to change this – and fast.

Nothing about this will be easy. That’s because the problems in our schools didn’t start there – they reflect deep, systemic, overlapping injustice across race, class and geography. A family who can’t access health services struggles to keep both parents employed. Those working multiple jobs need after school care but don’t live in communities with the resources to provide it. Each inequity makes the next one worse.

When we choose to teach, we choose to disrupt this cycle.

Outside of my studies and work with Chi Omega and Make-A-Wish, I’m fortunate to spend a few hours every week working with students, parents, and faculty from the Dallas Independent School District to make reading a priority.

My time at these schools is a sharp contrast to the bubble of life on campus. I see the challenges poverty creates for my students and their families both in and out of the classroom. Yet despite what they’re up against, these kids are some of the brightest, boldest minds I’ve ever met. The zip codes they were born in should not hold them back from becoming the visionaries of future generations.

When we come together to help kids change the way they think about their own abilities and futures, we create classrooms full of students who are dreaming big. When we equip them with the skills and tools to thrive in and out of the classroom, we cultivate boundless potential – the future scientists, politicians, writers, artists, doctors, attorneys who shape the world we are all going to share.

It won’t happen overnight. But if we use our own education to support them on their quest for theirs, it will happen.

I don’t know exactly where this next step will take me. If I love teaching as much as I think I might, I’ll keep at it. Or maybe I’ll become a principal, or partner with organizations working to address some of the challenges my students face.

Wherever I go, I’ll empower my students to break the cycle and strive to become part of a better one.

I can’t wait for school to start.

Emily Towler is a current senior studying Spanish, education and economics. She is also the Community Liaison for Reading For A Reason and the Philanthropy Chair for Chi Omega.

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