Kim Kotty, who is finishing up her 14th year of teaching English at Fenwick, discusses co-teaching the American Studies course with a history department colleague. She also explains why students should beware of 'simple answers' that digital technology often provides.
What is your educational background?
KK: I have both a B.A. in Secondary Education/English and an M.A. in Writing, Rhetoric and Discourse from DePaul University.
What did you do prior to becoming a teacher at Fenwick?
KK: I worked in International Admissions for the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul. Most of my job was to organize students’ applications—essays, letters of recommendation, and school transcripts. I was fascinated by the way in which each country has such completely different ideas about what “official” documents should look like. Some were small books that looked like a passport and had hand-written records while others were very large sheets of paper with embossed wax seals. It was a cool job.
What are you currently reading for enjoyment?
KK: I just started Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
What interests do you pursue outside of the classroom?
KK: My favorite thing to do is to spend time with my kids. Random living room dance parties and digging in the sandbox have become the greatest pastimes ever. Aside from that, I really enjoy running.
To what teams and/or clubs did you belong as a student?
KK: I played badminton, played the clarinet in the band, and was a member of both the Student Council and each of the Class Clubs.
Which clubs/Sports/Activities do you run at Fenwick?
KK: I am the moderator of the Student Council and the Poetry Club.
What quality/characteristic marks a Fenwick student?
KK: Fenwick students are extremely driven and extremely competitive. They set lofty goals for themselves and are relentless in their pursuit of those goals. They are very busy and juggle a lot of commitments. They are also polite and kind. As Student Council Moderator, I am often the “middle-man” between vendors (like florists and banquet managers) and our students. The vendors are often pleasantly surprised by our students’ manners.
When did you decide to become a teacher, and why did you choose this field?
KK: I knew I wanted to be a teacher from a very young age, and I’m grateful that my little brother mostly tolerated my endless desire to “play school.” I also had a high school English teacher, Mrs. Hoffman, who was very inspiring to me. I was an awkward teenager, and she made me realize that it was okay to just be myself and geek out over words. She helped me find my passion and be comfortable in my own skin.
What do you like most about teaching as a career?
KK: I love that I can share my love of language and my love of learning with others. I mean, basically, someone pays me to read a lot of literature and talk about it with people. What could be better than that? Despite having taught the same texts so many times, each class always brings something new to them. I often find myself saying, “I have never thought of it like that.” Teaching is this weird balance of total monotony and constant change. Even though my adult life functions on a bell schedule, I walk through the doors each day a little bit uncertain of how things will go. Perhaps this is why I am able to encompass the entire range of human emotions in a single school day — from awe to frustration to belly-laugh hilarity.
What is your favorite class to teach?
KK: My favorite class to teach is American Studies. The class is team-taught by an English teacher and a history teacher and spans two class periods. We use an interdisciplinary approach to help students better understand the influence of our social and political history on ordinary people. Because the class is based on discussion and because we spend two class periods together, the students have a genuine sense of community. Working with a co-teacher also is fun; it is not uncommon for us to interpret texts and events differently from one another, and we are not shy about voicing those disagreements. We try to model for students what academic argument looks like and use this as a tool for engaging students and emphasizing that there is often more than one “right” answer.
What personal strengths do you find especially helpful in your teaching?
KK: My enthusiasm and my energy are assets in the classroom.
What is the greatest success you have had in teaching?
KK: I’m certainly most proud of my former students who have pursued the path of their dreams — from attorneys, to physical therapists, to police officers, to film makers, to businessmen, and even a couple of English teachers. The fact that so many have reached out to tell me about their adventures and their successes makes me feel as if I played some small part in helping those dreams come to fruition.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing students today?
KK: Without a doubt, digital technology is the greatest challenge to students’ lives. Aside from the general distraction that they cause making it virtually impossible to complete any task in a timely manner, it is the immediacy of information that is the most concerning. Learning is a slow and messy process. Being able to seemingly answer a question instantaneously can be deceptive; having an answer can easily be confused for understanding an idea. Our society seems increasingly comfortable with simple answers and seems to resist complexity and nuance. We must teach young people to seek out complexity and to be wary of simple answers.