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Faculty Focus: Michael Kennedy

By Ariel Rivkin
Published: October 2010

Questions about college? Before opening another one of Fiske’s guides or running to your guidance counselor for the umpteenth time, consider speaking with English teacher Michael Kennedy, who has experience with some of the nation’s best universities.
Notre Dame? Check. MIT? Check. Tufts and Harvard? Got it.
You might be wondering if this is the same Mr.Kennedy who was your hardest English teacher ever, and the answer is yes.
But there is much more to Kennedy than an impressive resumé and high grading standards.
His passion for diving not only led him all over the country, but also eventually opened his eyes to his true calling.
A springboard and platform diver in high school, he continued diving in college at the University of Notre Dame where he was a four-year letter winner and the Midwest Conference diving champion in 1985. Kennedy then attended the Fletcher School of Tufts University, where he also coached diving for three years. He also coached diving at MIT during this period.
When he learned that Harvard Diving was in need of a new coach, he applied for and received the position. He coached there from 1988 until 1992 and “loved it.
“I was very happy and content at Harvard, Kennedy said. “I ran the facility, hired and trained the lifeguards, recruited divers, and advised three students¦I really turned an avocation into a vocation.
Kennedy did not simply coach divers how to jump, twist, and turn into a pool. He taught the sport from a unique perspective.
“I trained with Olympic coaches and learned that there is a science to diving. I incorporated the physics of motion into the training and tried to teach the divers to see diving in a more scientific way, Kennedy said.
His coaching style was very successful, as he sent divers to nationals every year.
Despite finding great success within the sport, something was missing for Kennedy.
“Because the diving world is so small and rarified, the endpoint was clearly in sight, Kennedy said. “After some time I kept wondering ‘Ëœwhat more might there be?’
It was on a training trip to Venezuela that Kennedy first thought about becoming a teacher.
“We were on the trip and one of my student athletes turned to me and said, ‘Ëœyou should really be in the classroom.’ And that was the first time I ever thought ‘Ëœ that that might work, Kennedy said.
He had every right to think that it might work. Teaching had been in his family’€his mother was a professor of English and his father a professor of Engineering. Kennedy’s own love of literature had always been evident.
“I was fascinated by literature¦my family would spend summers on Walloon Lake in Michigan right next to the Hemmingway property. There was no TV, only one radio and I read all the time, he said.
This fascination with literature convinced Kennedy to become an English teacher.
A few years later, Kennedy stopped coaching and came to South. It was here where Kennedy did his practicum with English teacher, Robert Jampol.
“Blame it on Mr. Jampol, Kennedy said between chuckles. “Well, I should say thanks to Mr. Jampol’s great leadership and instruction¦I came here and knew that this was the place I wanted to work.
Kennedy found the environment at South to be unique. “The student body is smart and likes to excel, learn, be led, exchange ideas and debate, he said. “I wanted to teach and learn¦I get to do both here.
Kennedy is still satisfied that he made the switch from the pool to the classroom.
“Literature is so multidimensional. I couldn’t get on a diving board and see things differently, he said. “It gets to a point where you feel there’s not much more to learn, but I read books all the time. Reading keeps me engaged in my personal pursuit.
As a teacher, Kennedy wants to help guide students toward pursuing their own passions and introduce them to new ones.
“I don’t want the kids to memorize and spit out facts. I want them to learn something for life, he said. “I want them to improve their reading skills and how to clarify their thinking.
Now, Kennedy lives in Cambridge in his “blended family consisting of two young children and their two mothers.
“We travel and hike together, Kennedy said. “We even ‘Ëœbaptized’ the kids in Walloon Pond soon after each child was born.
Kennedy also hopes to take his kids and their two moms to Colombia, his favorite country in South America.
From the pool to the classroom, Michael Kennedy has lived an exciting life, but has many more students to shape and teach.

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