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Summer 2011, Vol. 14, No. 3
Focus on Students

Five Minutes with Pete Kelly

Pete KellyPete Kelly, professor of education and director of special education, has been a member of the Truman faculty for 11 years. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees as well as his PhD from the University of Kansas.

Tell us a little bit about what you teach:
I started out teaching high school history and science where my interest gravitated to the kid in the back rowóthe kid with learning and behavior problems, so I eventually went back and got my masterís degree in special education. After a number of years working with troubled kids in schools, state hospitals and psychiatric units, I now train students to be special education teachers and to work with students with mild to moderate disabilities. I am one of the founders of a small partnership with our local school district in special education. Together, my students and I work closely with a group of mentor teachers in the Kirksville schools. The aim of the partnership is to provide a mediated and supported professional induction to teaching for Truman students while also helping to improve teaching and learning in our local school district. I am proud to say we are making an impact on both fronts.

How would you describe your teaching philosophy:
I believe learning to teach is like learning to ride a bicycle. When I taught my kids how to ride, I put them on the bike, gave them a shove and ran along beside them for support. When they fell down, I helped them back on the bike, and we did it again. And again. I believe the only way students learn to teach is in the classroom working with real live students. This may sound self-evident to some, but it is not the traditional practice in teacher preparation. I believe that mentor teachers who work with Truman students are a vital element in the process. If our goal is to develop the best teachers in the state, I believe we need to simultaneously develop the teaching and mentorship skills of our studentsí mentor teachers. We have been doing this for years in our special education partnership. Teacher preparation, in my estimation, is most effective done in partnership with teachers and schools. It makes us all better at what we do.

What would people be surprised to learn about you:
Some people might be surprised to know I spent six years in prison ó teaching in prison. I was not an inmate; I taught inmates with disabilities for about four years at Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kan. It is an old-school maximum security facility with 30-foot-tall stone walls that are 10 feet thick. I also taught women at the Topeka Correctional Facility for about two years. I expect I am the only faculty member at Truman with a prison postcard tacked up on the bulletin board outside my office.

What do you like to do when youíre not working:
I love to spend time outdoors. I have a kayak I like to put in on the different lakes in the area. I enjoy fishing and working in the garden. I have a small and well-shaded yard that is a great place to entertain family and friends. A small patch receives adequate sun for a few herbs and tomatoes ó things I like to have for my cooking. I love to cook. I spent better than 10 years in the restaurant business. It helped to put me through high school, my bachelorís degree and my masterís degree. Cooking for family and friends is one of my favorite things to do; I love to feed my people.

If you werenít teaching, what would you be doing:
I like to think Iíd own a small restaurant with a menu that changed with the seasons. For a time, the idea really appealed to me, but I also wanted to have a family. My role as a father was always my most important job. I think it would have been difficult to do both things well.

Kayak and CarYou have a day off, and youíre caught up on grading. What do you do with your free day:
I would rise early and have coffee on the kayak as the sun rose over Hazel Creek. Kayaking is like taking a hike on the water. With luck, Iíd catch a few bass before heading out. On the way home, Iíd stop for good local food at the Farmerís Market. I know which vendors have the best chocolate chip cookies, pie and produce. The cookies make for a great late breakfast on a Saturday morning. Later, Iíd prepare and share a nice meal on the patio in the back yard; my best days typically revolve around sharing good food with friends.

What is the most rewarding part of your job:
I spent about the first 10 years of my teaching career working with students with disabilities in some difficult settings. Truman is one of the first places Iíve worked with students from advantaged homes, schools and communities. Virtually every single day, I feel fortunate to work with bright students deeply committed to making a difference in the world. My students give me hope for the future.


Truman Review magazine
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Copyright © Truman State University 2011.