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2019 New England Teacher Poet of the Year: Mrs. Kenney

“The fear of not being good enough… you have to ignore it because you might find out that you actually are.”

Mrs. Kenney certainly holds true to her own words, having received recognition from the New England Association of Teachers of English for her poetry, which she originally considered not submitting her writing to at all. She was encouraged by friends and teachers to send one of her own poems, and she ended up winning the New England Teacher Poet of the Year Award—a very impressive feat! While Mrs. Kenney appreciates the recognition and congratulations that she has received with this award, she says that it has been a bit overwhelming receiving all of the attention that has come with it as well. While we hope not to contribute to this, we felt that this accomplishment was worthy of note, and are proud to have her talent at our school.

Mrs. Kenney has been an English teacher at BHS for 9 years, and she currently teaches In Writing and IB English II—two classes that house very different atmospheres, each with its own separate dynamic of students. She says that although the two classes are fairly dissimilar in style and environment, she appreciates what both have to offer, kindly praising her seniors for being “smart and independently minded,” and remarking at the charming nature of her freshmen as “goofy but obedient.” While these are the two classes she’s teaching this year, she has taught a variety of other classes in the past, including American Dream, Advanced Writing, AP Language and Composition, and Public Presentations.

When asked what led her to a career in teaching, Mrs. Kenney says that the idea just seemed to make sense to her: “I feel like I always knew I would be a teacher even when I was a little kid…it just felt right to me.” When she was younger, she says that she would play make-believe with her friends, making worksheets and assignments for them, even correcting and grading their work afterwards. While her friends may or may not have found the additional work as thrilling, Mrs. Kenney has clearly enjoyed and connected with the lifestyle of a teacher since a young age.

When asked about her experiences as a teacher at BHS and what she has enjoyed, Mrs. Kenney spoke of the student body and how it has inspired her and allowed her to really enjoy her time at the school. Having grown up in Manchester, Mrs. Kenney did not know what to expect of Bedford. However, she was extremely pleased by Bedford High School:

 “I’ve been teaching for 19 years and I’ve never met a group of students that’s more respectful… the vast majority of the kids here are just so open and so grateful for the lives that they have. You really care about your education and the relationships you form with your teachers… it’s just a great place to work. You guys [BHS students] are the reason I want to retire here.” 

We find it very touching that Mrs. Kenney regards our student body with such high esteem. Our appreciation for her and the other amazing teachers at BHS is mutual.

However, believe it or not, Mrs. Kenney’s original career path as she entered college had nothing to do with English or teaching; she was accepted to Rochester Institute of Technology to study biomedical photographic communication. What this entails exactly is beyond us, but it sounds about as far away from the abstract nature and whimsical beauty of English as you can get. However, Mrs. Kenney tells us that she was immediately put off by the feel of the school and the atmosphere created by its students:

“The vibe of the place was so stressful and I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin… it just felt wrong. Even at orientation, people were competing with one another, comparing SAT scores and… all this stuff that didn’t matter to me… we’re all here, we all got in, but it mattered to everyone else.”

She brings to attention the idea of there being much more to fulfillment and self worth than just academic records and test scores, which is especially significant for seniors in the midst of the stressful college application process, trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives and who they truly are. However, this idea speaks truths that are applicable to every student at Bedford High School. While we do love the community that BHS has created for us, it can be acknowledged that there’s a particular degree to which high achievement and academic excellence is placed on a pedestal in the school, which consequently leads to unhealthy amounts of stress and competition at times. Mrs. Kenney’s words serve as a reminder of the importance of placing happiness and healthy living before anything else, and she says that she often tells her students to pay close attention to the vibe that a school gives off when they go to visit: “It matters a lot how you feel in that space, maybe more than everything else, because you’re going to commit to that place for four years, and if it feels wrong… don’t do it.” 

Mrs. Kenney ended up leaving RIT to attend Keene State to pursue a degree in English, and says that she is glad she did. She finds it fascinating to think about where she would be instead if she had decided to stay and complete her STEM-oriented degree: “Imagine if I had! I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have been a teacher.” We can say that the students of BHS appreciate how this change in fate played out, and we’re very thankful for what Mrs. Kenney has brought to our school and her contributions to an enjoyable learning environment.

In her closing statements, when asked for the best advice she’s ever been given, Mrs. Kenney wisely replies, “for the things that scare you, try them anyway, because you never know what’s going to happen… even if you are uncomfortable and have self doubt, do not let that prevent you from pursuing something that you’re really passionate about.” Having left RIT to pursue her own passions for literature and English, it is clear that she is a follower of this empowering idea, and her story is an inspiring reminder for students to stay true to themselves and chase after what really matters to them, no matter how daunting or unfeasible it may appear.

Perseid, one of the three award-winning poems by Mrs. Kenney:


The weatherman said just look up 
and it'll be there... somewhere in the dark night sky,
flecks of meteoroids shooting across the inky black
with breathtaking disorder, like shiny silver orbs
in a dayglo pinball machine pinging left to right.
Or at least that's how I heard it.
My science teachers friends
will point out all the inaccuracies of my recollection.
They'll insist there's logic and order to the randomness, 
a consistency that comes with the showers of Swift Tuttle.
But I like the idea of these shorn off particles drifting
around the mesosphere, wandering free after
being held in a tight ball after so long -
each dusty afterthought making its dazzling debut 
to the earthlings below who hike up eventide mountains
with their Mexican blankets and picnics and mulled cider
for this kind of spectacle, who pray for new moons
and cloudless nights so as not to obscure the radiant light show-
Every August, a celestial summer night cap.

I think of the Perseid sky as the first days of the new school year.
Each student a pinch of comet debris zigzagging the hallways
with no clear path - lost in the dark maze of classrooms
and lunch tables and upperclassmen. They, too, are little pinballs
bouncing and banging against their new schedules.
My science teacher friends
will say there's an order to this chaos - 
flock mentality - no one knows where they're going
but they'll all get there nevertheless.
But I prefer to think they're comet dust in the wide open sky,
mingling in a new galaxy, hoping that their light won't burn out
too soon.


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