John Cornell: from college to kindergarten

Photo by Heather Iwinski

While most students might assume that a college professor strives for tenure, John Cornell’s dream is to work with kindergarteners by age 50.

While this is a big leap, Cornell said he was “really on (his) way” in a video on his website.

Cornell started his teaching career as an associate history professor at Butler University. Through the years, alongside the growth of his family and his ponytail, Cornell started to become passionate with a different age group.

“When my children were born and they were young, I got really interested in learning about young children,” Cornell said. “And the more time I spent with them, the more I wanted to teach younger learners.”

This started Cornell’s road to becoming a certified elementary teacher. He began taking courses at Butler among undergraduates, some of whom were his own students.

After four years of the required courses and student teaching, Cornell went out to look for an elementary teaching position and was able to take a job teaching fifth grade in Indianapolis.

He used his soft, child-friendly voice and extreme patience in his teaching. Though he only taught there for a year, he said his experience with younger children has transferred into his college teaching.

“This experience really made me see my undergraduates as young people, developing learners,” Cornell said. “Some of the same strategies that work with kids work with adults, mainly changing things up a lot more, using your body, using different forms of presenting, not getting stuck in lecturing.”

His students said they could really see this change in his teaching style. Sophomore Molly Nebiolo described the interactive nature of one of his classes.

“We had a lot of hands-on projects throughout the class,” Nebiolo said. “We even took a field trip to a museum with him, which was a lot of fun, and he was able to incorporate that into our classroom discussions.”

Cornell hasn’t been able to fulfill his dream of teaching kindergarten quite yet.  He said he still enjoys coming to Butler every day on his scooter, which he drives rain or shine in order to prevent further damage to the ecosystem.

“My scooter gets 80 miles to the gallon, and I can do precipitation, and I can do cold,” he said. “I just can’t do them together.”

Cornell does own a car to pick up his kids, but he prefers to ride his scooter on a regular basis, especially since he never has a problem finding a parking space.

Though Cornell is eager to start his career as a kindergarten teacher, he is willing to wait until the time is right.

“To people who know me well, I say I am really on my way” Cornell said. “To people who don’t, I say I’m way ahead of schedule.”