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Ms. Brennan's Trail of Children
Date: February 4th, 2011
Interviewee: Ms. Kate Brennan, high-school English teacher
Interviewer: Chelsea, student
Chelsea: Everyone has a story. It just matters who asks.
Let’s begin with your childhood. What was it like growing up? What was relationship with your family like? What school did you attend?
Ms. Brennan: I was born in Maplewood, NJ. Then my parents decided to move west on a farm in Sparta. It was adjacent to Black Angus cow farm, so we grew up around cows, chickens, horses, pigs. My parents were not farmers; my dad was actually a “telephone guy” and worked at a telephone company, and my mother was an English teacher and raised a proper girl in Montclair. With five siblings, money was often tight. But, we were best friends with no neighborhood kids around. In sixth grade, my parents split up and my grandfather was dying. We moved to Newton to live with my grandfather and my dad soon moved out. I attended middle school and high school in Newton. My siblings were the most important thing in my life. My dad and I didn’t have a strong relationship- I was different and he didn’t like that. As a child, I was imaginative, had lots of personality, and bad behaved. (Smiles)
Chelsea: As a student, I’ve seen how talented you really are. What was your special talent as a child? What did you want to be when you grew up? Plans for the future?
Ms. Brennan: (laughs) I always wanted to be a writer- I loved to write. Athletics definitely. I was a good athlete and that got me a full scholarship in basketball. I’ve never dreamed of being a teacher actually. I loved to sing; my dream being a Broadway performer, but I actually recorded a children’s album (you can find it at Barnes and Noble). I think it was my writer in me and my love for teaching and working for kids. I coached every sport, but really I was immersed in the world of children. Then, when I was nineteen or twenty I became a journalist and a basketball coach.
Chelsea: I would’ve guessed that! Ms. Brennan, I believe you told our class that you aren’t particularly fond of math. What subject did you excel at, at school?
Ms. Brennan: (laughs) That’s for sure! English. Just English, although I’m not a scientist, but I was in AP bio at one point. But, just English and any music classes.
Chelsea: I assumed so. To me, you’re the most admirable person I know. What events shaped you as a person?
Ms. Brennan: (Thinking) My mother getting cancer- and surviving. My parent’s divorce. My wonderful basketball experience. My first two years of teaching and the birth of my nieces and nephews. (Pause) My marriage failing. An illness that I have been battling for ten years. A good thing out of this all is survival; it doesn’t break you. All of this taught me resilience- especially my mother. She was a fighter; she fought cancer and soon I helped her heal from her own marriage. Finally, at one point, you just have to pull yourself through the clouds.
Chelsea: You are definitely living, breathing proof that someone, no matter how big and bad a situation, can overcome anything and just move on. I wish more people knew that.
Ms. Brennan: I wish more people knew that too.
Chelsea: Who was your inspirational teacher- the one you adored? I would say you are mine.
Ms. Brennan: Jane Shroyer. Otherwise known as, “Jungle Jane” and “Shroyer the Destroyer”. She was my first Honors English teacher. She was terrifying, dressed conservatively, smart, and wore a leather jacket. I loved her though. Also, my college professor that taught women psychology, Maria DiTuelo. And a new professor, Ann Ryan. She was very passionate and I looked forward to her class everyday. She taught me to use literature to facilitate dialogue. And, of course, my mom.
Chelsea: Why did you become a teacher?
Ms. Brennan: I love working with children- love children.
Ms. Brennan: I like younger kids, but teenagers are my favorite. Also, I believe in the importance of academia is a part of me wanting to be a teacher.
Chelsea: If you chance to interview one of your students/ or students in general, what is the one question you would ask them? What would they say about you?
Ms. Brennan: What could I have done this year? And, that I’m passionate, energetic, devoted to my profession, and (pause) available.
Chelsea: Nicely said. Being the leader of Sparta High School’s GSA club, what is the importance of diversity in high schools?
Ms. Brennan: The idea that everyone feels welcomed in this community; a safer more comfortable environment for students. For those who are different to never feel alone. We need a community in Sparta, but Sparta is not the world community.
Chelsea: Can you describe the most inspiring teaching moment?
Ms. Brennan: (Thinking) One of my students two years ago, for our final assignment in my creative writing course, they had to prepare a eulogy- or a “coming out speech”. I could see she was nervous. When she gave her speech, she barely made out some of the words amidst her tears. It was about how our society is not how it used to be, how we are beginning to accept gays for example. I, and the whole class, was so moved by this speech we stood and applauded while crying. It was very, very moving.
Chelsea: Our world is changing as we know it. Okay, Governor Christie…the most hated man in New Jersey, according to teachers, has his own ideas, but…How would you to repair schools across the state?
Ms. Brennan: (Laughs) I have a lot. 1. Parents should be more accountable for their children. 2. I’d have stricter guidelines for students. 3. You should be able to major in subjects while in high school. 4. Encourage technical or vocational schools more. 5. Extracurricular activities are a privilege, and not be abused. 6. Students should be allowed to drop out of high school. 7. We are not paid to be psychologists; we’ll listen, identify them, pay attention to who they are, but as parents it is their job to help them outside school. 8. Not focus so much on technology. 9. Raise standards for passing (70% would be failing). 10. Stop telling students that they can excel in everything. 11. Top heavy people that make decisions are not educators. They do not teach. Educators are not politicians. I would run schools I a military fashion. We need leaders who are appreciative, devoted, passionate, and outgoing to run schools.
Chelsea: Do you consider yourself a role model to everyone in grades 9-12? If so, why?
Ms. Brennan: Yes, all of us are role models. We do see students more than their parents do, and spend more time with them. Every human being learns from the men and women in their lives; people you see everyday. But, intially, parents are first, teachers second.
Chelsea: What is the most important life lesson you learned the hard way?
Ms. Brennan: Like every one! (Thinking) You can’t always make everyone happy. Breaking the law :) If you put you or your heart on the line- you’re just vulnerable. And, you can’t expect people to care about you.
Chelsea: Interesting. Who is your hero?
Ms. Brennan: My siblings. All of them. I admire every one.
Chelsea: Are you the oldest?
Ms. Brennan: Yep, you are officially in charge of your family.
Chelsea: Me too. Love, a constant discussion in class. Now it’s your turn- in your eyes, what is love?
Ms. Brennan: Love is the certain height of your senses. Love is raw, beautiful, cruel, and it’s really what makes the world go around. It doesn’t have any limits; no boundaries. It can’t be caged. I have all kinds of love in my life and I am truly grateful.
Chelsea: That was beautiful. Very beautifully worded.
Outside your classroom, what are your interests and passions?
Ms. Brennan: Definitely, athletics. Writing, reading, family should come first. I am culture based- you see a lot in the city. I love the pulse of it. Music; writing it, singing it. Great foods; I love to cook anything healthy. I love cooking for the person I live with.
Chelsea: Cooking- I wouldn’t suspect that at all!
What was your dream college and which did you attend?
Ms. Brennan: UC Berkley was my dream college; that is after I got accepted into another college. Despite the fact that both of my parents were graduates, I got a full scholarship for basketball to Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York. I lived for basketball; basketball was first, college second.
Chelsea: Speaking of dreams, what is on your bucket list?
Ms. Brennan: I actually don’t have one. (Smiles) Hmm…follow my heart. I’ve done everything I would want to. I’d love to write a memoir, for people to read and like. I’d like to get my doctorate, go back to Europe, Italy, and maybe Africa.
Chelsea: Memoir, sounds good.
What was the last book you have read and was it fabulous?
Ms. Brennan: I am reading, “Unbearable Lightness” by Portia de Rossi at the moment. I just finished, “The Help” and it was very good. I liking the book I’m reading now a lot. I can relate to it; I had an eating disorder, and that really never goes away. It firms up your experiences.
Chelsea: I guess things like that make us stronger.
We are the best, I know, but what do you think girls are better at overall?
Ms. Brennan: Everything. (Laughs) Girls or women?
Ms Brennan: We are much more insightful in understanding human emotions. We are better jugglers. We handle more stress. We are fighters because we have to be. We are constant underdogs, and we play behind the fence. We understand the heart better than men. Don’t think I’m a man-hater or anything, but…
Chelsea: (Laughs) I have to agree. You are an amazing English teacher to all of us, but what is your legacy?
Ms. Brennan: A trail of children. Hopefully, one’s who have learned to believe in themselves, respect themselves, understand their limits, and realize their potential. Since, I have no children of my own, my students are my children, and I love that.
Chelsea: And, finally, could you give me any advice for myself when I have a classroom of my own?
Ms. Brennan: Of course. Believe in yourself. Believe in the importance of what you are doing. Set higher expectations and expect the best from your students. Hold them accountable for everything. Your classroom is your place- make it your own. Don’t get caught up in politics at your own school. There are always good educators, and always children that will need help. Most teachers forget, but everyday is a learning experience. Let them keep you down, and let them teach you. For me, I get a youthful experience everyday. I choose here, doing what I love then any other job in the world.
Chelsea: Thank you. And, last question, coke or Pepsi?
Ms. Brennan: (Laughs) Pepsi! I don’t drink a lot of soda anyway, but when I do, Pepsi.
Chelsea: Thank you so much, Ms. Brennan. A teacher with so much love for what she does should be recognized.