Branching out: How One Teacher’s Lessons Left a Mark On My Life

by | May 10, 2018

By Aly Beckham

Something I will always remember about Kelly Kirwan is the sheer amount of wisdom she held. For example, the iconic statement, “Lit is life!” is, I believe, comparable to anything famous teachers like Mr. Miyagi or Aristotle could conjure up. Mrs. Kirwan taught me AP English Literature my senior year of high school, and thanks to her, it was one of the best classes I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of.

She had this way of making everyone in the class feel brilliant, like we all had incredibly unique contributions to make and like the classroom simply wouldn’t be the same without us, (which I suppose is true in a way, but as a student it doesn’t always feel so). She was always accepting of everyone and sought to understand us as human beings, not just students. Her sense of humor and simple joy never ceased to brighten my day. But what I loved most about her was that she didn’t focus on school solely for the sake of education. She saw discussing, analyzing, and learning as a way to broaden our minds and understanding of the world, particularly through literature. For me, no teacher will ever compare to her. Her kindness and passion for learning continues to inspire me, and I believe that is the key to being a successful teacher.

Every year, Mrs. Kirwan had a theme for her AP Literature class; one year it was butterflies, another year gemstones, another year birds. Our year was trees, so she assigned us each a tree type, (I was a Joshua tree), and throughout the year, we would occasionally connect tree references to our readings or lessons.

On one particularly nice day in March, we were discussing the beauty of merely being in a moment, of taking everything in and not trying to make sense of it — just being. Mrs. Kirwan was talking about the serenity that can come from standing at the base of a tree and simply looking up. So of course, someone in the class turned towards a large tree right outside the window and asked, “Well, can we then?” Mrs. Kirwan though for a moment and told us why not; after all, it was an incredible day. We all adventured downstairs and outside, formed a circle at the base of the tree, held hands, and looked up. We talked a little, giggling at some points, but we also had long moments of silence, taking in each other’s presence. It was absolutely lovely.

I can’t think of any other teacher I’ve had that sees it as an essential part of our education to not only teach us facts, but also how to live, a teacher that will deem it appropriate learning material to go outside and look up at a tree. It was simultaneously one of the most absurd and beautiful things I’ve ever done.

This is what it means to be a teacher.

To be in a position of influence and to use it to foster growth of the soul. To inspire, by words, actions, and relationships. To connect to your students, and to take just as much as you give. This is why we need teachers. It’s hard enough to navigate life; it is even harder to do it alone.

If not for Mrs. Kirwan, and all the other teachers that have impacted my life, I know my mind and who I am as a person would not be what it is today. So I celebrate her, and all the others who work tirelessly to better the lives of young people, which in turn betters the world.


Since 1983, the Prichard Committee has worked to study priority issues, inform the public and policy makers about best practices and engage citizens, business leaders, families, students, and other stakeholders in a shared mission to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education excellence and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education.

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