Position: English Teacher
School: Sparta High School
School District: Sparta Township School District
City, State: Sparta, New Jersey
About the Nominee: Kate Brennan was nominated by a colleague, Mary Hassenplug. “She just gets us.” Those words, which were whispered by a student in Ms. Brennan’s senior Women’s Literature class as Ms. Hassenplug observed a lesson, resonated for their power and simplicity. Ms. Hassenplug pulled the student aside and asked them what they meant. The student proceeded to tell stories of how Ms. Brennan made them feel safe and secure from the moment they walked into her classroom. In their words, "She sits in a student chair among us, not at a teacher desk above us. She talks to us, not at us. She sees us as people. She respects us and responds to us like she really hears us.”
The student continued to explain that they have more work in Ms. Brennan’s class than other classes, but they know it's valuable work, and they're committed to it because they don’t want to disappoint her. Students recognize how hard Ms. Brennan works and want to reach the standards she sets for them.
When Ms. Hassenplug pushed the student to explain how Ms. Brennan has changed lives, they grew serious and said pointedly, “She makes us think about things differently.” Isn’t that the hallmark of a LifeChanger? Ms. Brennan pushes students to consider “the other,” the perspective that challenges her students to explore other possibilities. The student continued, “I perceive LGBT people differently now. I am more compassionate. That’s a big change for me.”
This was an exchange with just one student, but the same conversation could have been had with any number of students and athletes who have benefited from the efforts of Ms. Brennan. As a lacrosse and volleyball coach and as a teacher, she has been instrumental in helping students not only receive scholarships, but also see themselves as capable. That is the greatest gift that she can give them. She inspires students and athletes to be their best selves, to reach heights they never thought possible and to stretch themselves in new and challenging ways. As a member of the school Leadership Committee, Ms. Brennan also pushes her colleagues to explore ways to build bridges and expand communication, to increase rigor and relevance and to foster a love of learning. Her example is one that benefits everyone in her school community. She is, indeed, a LifeChanger