Teachers reflect on the places they’ve gone

“You’re a young lady,” her father said once. “You don’t need to be messing around with tools!”

But Kathleen Kilmer preferred many things over being a young lady. As a girl, she hated the dresses “young ladies” wore—they bunched up in the most annoying way when she rode her bike. And it was hard to keep from exploring.

“I was always curious about the world around me,” she said. “I always wanted to know how things worked.”

She was constantly taking things apart, sometimes getting in trouble because she could not put them back together again. After reading about dinosaur fossils, she started a museum in her mother’s laundry room—and got in trouble for charging neighborhood kids to view fossilized dinosaur droppings.

Despite her parents’ discouragements, Kilmer followed her passion for science into the nuclear medicine field, and then to education. She now teaches physics and biology.

“I believe you have to be happy,” she said. “Parents all have the best intentions for their children but you kind of have to let them find their own way.”

Many students, however, do not feel free to choose their own destinies. Sometimes, their paths are determined by their parents, who encourage some classes and vocations and forbid others. Other times, pressure from mentors and peers makes students feel the need to stop participating in things they love in order to build practical careers. Suddenly, the decisions to commit to clubs or to drop or add highly challenging classes seem monumental, each an irrevocable turn on the road that will make—or break—their lives and futures.

These choices may often seem weighty because of the high level of investment from teachers and club sponsors. Speech and Debate co-coach Derek Davis exemplifies this.

“I don’t like apathy, and I don’t like it when people quit on themselves,” Davis said.

Davis is well known for his persistent recruiting of talented students for his award-winning, highly competitive Speech and Debate program.

“I hate it when I see people with talent who start and then either get too busy or [are] not sure of themselves and quit,” he said. “Here at Kerr there’s a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of pulling from different ends, you know—[there are] talented people, being involved in theatre and band and journalism, what have you, and not thinking that they can do different things.”

Davis does not believe participation in multiple clubs is a problem.

“Some of my most successful people over the years have been highly active in my group and others,” he said. “And so I think it’s sad when some people cut their ability short because they think they have to do one or the other.”

English teacher Ayn Nys can certainly sympathize. As sponsor of the Writers’ Table, Nys also has to deal frequently with students’ hectic schedules.

“It can be extremely hard because a lot of the Writers’ Table students are really active in things like NHS and StuCo and theater, so we just do our best,” she said. “It’s sometimes frustrating, especially if we have to get something accomplished.”

Nys believes that over-commitment to too many clubs or subjects is counterproductive.

“What I’ve heard from professors and college admissions people and people that are currently in college is they want people who develop their skills consistently in a few areas,” she said. “So if [students] are in everything, they look like just people who are focused on building their resume, but not in a powerful way.”

She believes that students need to weigh both their passions and their reality to make choices.

“I believe in having a balanced approach,” Nys said. “I don’t like the concept of choosing a career just because you think it sounds fun…But I also think that if you choose a career solely out of practicality… you won’t last in your career, or you’ll stabilize in your career to such an extent that you won’t be truly fulfilled.”

Nys’s approach is to live and plan day by day.

“I think that none of us really know what’s going to happen in our future,” she said. “And the best thing that we can do to prepare for our future is to on a daily basis try to challenge ourselves, like, try to be the best person we can be. And most of the kids at Kerr do that. So I actually feel really, really secure about the future.”

Kilmer, looking back on her career choices and changes, encourages students to remember that no matter how meticulous their current plans, a lot can change during college and work.

“You never know which way your paths will turn,” Kilmer said.