Teacher Tuesday: Rich Kirby, strength in teaching.

December 22, 2020

Teacher Tuesday: Rich Kirby, strength in teaching.

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, staff writer.

Teacher Tuesday is a presentation of Shelby State Bank, www.shelbystatebank.com with offices in Ludington, Pentwater, Shelby, Hart, Hesperia, Manistee, Montague, Whitehall, North Muskegon, and Fruitport. 

LUDINGTON – Finding a teaching job in Ludington 28 years ago, Ludington High School teacher, Rich Kirby never imagined how the small town could play such a large role in molding his career and his life in general.

“I started in the fall of 1993, he said. “I was hired by Mr. Mark Boon. There were 17 new hires in the Ludington School system that fall. Seems like yesterday. In that first year, I used to have a teacher assistant named Beth Wilson (Mrs. Gunsell now) at the time who would run notes over to a teacher at Franklin Elementary named Beth Anderson (Mrs. Kirby now). The rest is history. Ludington is a pretty special place.”

Kirby, a 1986 graduate of St. Johns High School in St. Johns, Michigan, had some special educators in his life who he admired and encouraged him in many ways, including to see teaching as a possible career choice.

“I went into teaching because of experiences I had with several of my teachers in the St. Johns school system,” he said. “I learned so much from my fifth-grade teacher Mrs. Caulkins, as well as my high school French teacher, Mr. Labrie, and Bob Tissot, my high school counselor, FCA leader and football coach.”

Kirby performed his student teaching at DeWitt High School while finishing his education degree from Michigan State University in 1991. He then followed that up with his master’s in education leadership from Grand Valley State University in 2000. 

“I have taught mostly high school health and physical education classes, in particular the strength and conditioning class here at Ludington High School,” Kirby said. “I have taught several health and PE classes at OJ DeJonge Middle School as well.”

Over his 28 years, Kirby has never felt like he’s going to work. Building relationships with students, staff and families has been a huge part in his overall enjoyment of teaching and “attending school every day.”

“I do not go to work every day,” he said. “I go to school every day. It is so neat to see people get better. It is a positive environment. That is what life is all about. Its growth. Constant improvement. I learned from some of the best too. I get to work with a real-life saint, Mr. Mark Boon. How many people can say that? I will be forever positively impacted by Mrs. Margene Hankwitz. I still do several things with my health students that I learned from her. I enjoy the sense of community the most. It is always a great day to be an Oriole. Each class is a new team on a journey to learn and accomplish new things. I love the fact that Ludington High School students celebrate one another. It is cool to be a good student here at LHS. Our student body as a whole is truly remarkable. 

“Even in this current situation with COVID-19, our student body did a remarkable job this past fall. I really enjoy seeing students succeed in a variety of disciplines. Our students get to experience it all here at LHS. They do not have to specialize like more so in a larger school, yet in our school we are still able to offer Class A offerings.”

Even though Kirby stated that there is so much he loves about education, he does have one thing he’d like to see change.

“If I could change one thing about education today, it would be how schools are funded,” he said. “Simply stated, if they were better funded, educators could spend more time building relationships, developing curriculum and engaging lessons as opposed to writing grants and searching for ways to fund their curriculum. With that said, in terms of our community support, it is incredible. I feel pretty fortunate to live and work in a community that passed an incredible tech bond and most recently a huge bond that will take this community to another level.”

One can totally see that Kirby has found his calling in life and many of his current and former students would agree that whether in the classroom, the gym, in the community or in his favorite place, the weight room, Kirby goes above and beyond for his students, his co-workers and the families of Ludington.

“My favorite place to be is in the weight room,” he said. “The weight room builds and reveals character. It never lies. One-hundred pounds is 100 pounds. It creates leaders, eliminates pretenders and produces mental toughness. I am most proud of the diverse mix of students in my strength classes and how they treat each other. I believe health and physical education are the two most important disciplines we teach in school,” he said. “Every educator should feel that way about their discipline. I am serious when I say this. Think about it. We are stuck inside your bodies our entire lives, shouldn’t we know how to take care of it? Shouldn’t we know about what it needs inside and out? All our lives, we swim through a sea of misleading information and influences about what and how we should do that.”

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