Education Professor Kerry Bostwick homeschooled her sons, Dennis (left), 19, and Christopher, 17.
Kerry Bostwick has teaching in her blood. Her dad was superintendent of the College Community School District in Cedar Rapids. Her grandmother was a teacher, so is her brother. It was almost inevitable that Bostwick would end up teaching aspiring teachers as associate professor of education at Cornell.
Except that Bostwick took a circuitous route. Teaching is her second career. Third if you count single motherhood and raising two boys. First, she went into retail.
Bostwick had taken some courses at the University of Iowa, flirting with the idea of being an artist. Then she worked for her mother’s business, a small chain of eastern Iowa clothing stores known as Four Seasons. When the recession of the ’80s threatened to fell the business, Bostwick and her mother decided to move on. Bostwick was in her early 30s, newly divorced, and her boys, Christopher and Dennis, were 2 and 3 respectively, when she started college again. This time around, she aimed for a teaching degree.
“It felt familiar to me. I liked what the issues were. I liked the joys—and the hard parts,” Bostwick recalled. Yet she encourages the next generation of students to explore life via the circuitous route.
“My advice is to go willingly down several paths, make some wrong turns, U-turns, do donuts in the parking lot, go uphill, go downhill, or just coast a bit, but travel many roads. It will all add up to something. It will all count,” Bostwick advised in her faculty address at Cornell’s commencement in 2003.
Education is Cornell’s top major after psychology. Classes are always full. Bostwick and her three full-time colleagues teach a model where classrooms are a “community of learners” and dialogue is a two-way street. Students embrace the concept. But while it sounds simple, it’s an art. It still involves extensive planning on a teacher’s part, Bostwick explained, but it calls for a complex understanding of material and of varying degrees of student skills and learning abilities.
Bostwick’s teaching debut was in 1992, as a teacher of first-graders in Lakeland, Florida’s third-largest school district. It was a time of culture shock and career reality. Lakeland was just implementing desegregation, something the “girl from Iowa” found unbelievable. Then there were the expectant faces that peered at her each day.
“My first year I thought, ‘This is too much responsibility. I can’t teach them to read!’ ” she recalls.
By 1993 Bostwick had her MEd in curriculum and instruction from National Louis University-Tampa, Fla., and four years later a PhD from the Union Institute. When she came to Cornell in 1999, her boys were 11 and 12.
Bostwick knew from her profession that such a move came at a critical emotional period of her sons’ lives. When she saw the adjustment becoming too hard, she decided to homeschool.
It may seem like a strange anomaly—a teacher pulling her sons out of school.
“I just did what I felt was right for my children. I’m a parent first,” she explained.
So, while teaching full time at Cornell, she taught her own sons, mixing classwork with real-life applications. One math lesson, for instance, challenged the boys to measure, purchase material, and build a skateboard ramp. “And once it was in the driveway, they had instant friends,” she recalled.
Now Dennis has started college at the Art Institute of Colorado in Denver, and Christopher will leave next fall for an art program as well. These have been busy, focused years, centered on profession and raising the boys.
“Why do you think I have these bags under my eyes?” Bostwick joked.