October 1, 2013
Joan Kennedy has been described as "one of the sweetest ladies you'll ever meet." Her dedication to the teaching profession as well as her volunteer efforts for various organizations have inspired many fellow educators. In this Member of the Month interview, Joan shares her insights on how the calling to teach integrates with the other duties of life and reveals her alter ego: the Cat in the Hat!
When did you know you wanted to become a teacher?
I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher. As a child, I “played school” and pretended to teach. So, it was to no one’s surprise that I ended up doing what I love to do…teaching and working with children.
How did you begin your career, and what led you to your current position?
I began my career in the fall of 1963 when I enrolled in the Educational program at Southeastern Louisiana University. After two years, I dropped out to get married. During my six-year absence, I had three children (the youngest lived only one day). I returned to SLU in January of 1971 and completed my Bachelor’s Degree, graduating in May 1973. In 1976, I was blessed with another child.
My first teaching assignment began in August 1973 with a first grade class. I taught first and second grades for 21 years, and reading was always my first love. Over a period of years, I earned a Masters Plus 30 hours and Library Certification. After serving as school Librarian for 13 years, I retired from Wesley Ray Elementary, Angie, LA in December 2006. In 2008, I returned for one year to teach music at Franklinton Elementary.
What do you believe literacy educators do to motivate kids to want to read?
Children learn from adults and their peers. Therefore, we must emulate the behavior we want to see in them. They see us read, so they want to read. We do book talks and whet their appetites for the written word. I hope to motivate children when I share stories, songs, and poems with them. Many children today don’t know basic nursery rhymes that I grew up on. I sometimes sing the rhymes and then ask them to repeat with me.
What do you consider to be your proudest career moment?
I am proud that my children and grandchildren furthered their education and that three of them entered the field of education. Two are now members of LRA and IRA. I am also proud to see students that I’ve taught succeed and know that I’ve had a small part in that. Serving as LRA President was another proud time in my life…meeting so many people who have influenced me in numerous ways.
How long have you been a member of the International Reading Association and the Louisiana Reading Association? How has membership influenced your career?
I’m happy to be a part of the Washington Parish Reading Council, the Louisiana Reading Association (LRA), and the International Reading Association (IRA). I’ve been an IRA member for more than 20 years, reaping the benefits of Professional Development, motivational speakers, good books, and learning new strategies that made a difference in my teaching.
I’ve attended and been involved with the IRA Regional Conferences and attended annual IRA Conventions. I served on the International Reading Association’s Local Council Community Service Awards Committee for two years, 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. The IRA Conference will be held in New Orleans in May 2014, and I do plan to be there.
I have served on many committees and volunteered in numerous capacities during my years in LRA…more than 20. I do plan to attend the LRA Conference in December. In the past, I’ve enjoyed working Registration, the Membership Booth, introducing speakers at times, and even doing presentations. I was Program Chair for the 2003 LRA Conference in New Orleans and Co-Chair of the 2007 State Conference in Baton Rouge. In 2004-2005, I served as President of LRA and I served as LRA Assistant Treasurer in 2007-2008. I currently chair the LRA Teacher Travel Grant committee.
During Literacy Week, I am a regular reader at different parish schools and dress up as the “Cat in the Hat” for Dr. Seuss’s birthday. I also do a literacy presentation at the local Head Start school for parents to emphasize the importance of early reading. I volunteer weekly at Chesbrough Elementary Library and also read and do activities in my grandson’s Second Grade classroom. Even though I’m retired, I do my “Lesson Plan” each week for my volunteer work. I’m also co-chair of the Spelling Bee held annually at the Washington Parish Free Fair in the historic Mile Branch Settlement.
What do you like to do when you're not involved in literacy education events?
I enjoy writing and would one day like to have my book published. I love to read, write, and sing. I’ve kept journals for many years and enjoy keeping a photographic history of WPRC and LRA activities. I love words and poetic images seem to just “come to me.”
What's the best advice you can offer someone new to the profession?
I tell those entering the field of education, it you don’t love what you do, don’t go there.
I can’t imagine not being a teacher. I was born to be a teacher, and that’s what I‘ll always do.
Teaching has been an enjoyment for me and my goal was to be a positive influence on those I taught. I wanted them to leave my classroom or library with zeal to learn and a hunger for the written word: learn to read and then read to learn. The world is yours when you open a book.