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Alumnus Ryan Kelly named East Haddam's Teacher-of-the-Year

Published on September 21, 2023

Alumnus Ryan Kelly named East Haddam's Teacher-of-the-Year

Ryan Kelly '18
Ryan Kelly '18
Eastern alumnus Ryan Kelly ’18 was recently named Teacher-of-the-Year in East Haddam. He credits much of his success and drive to the influence of his professors at Eastern.

“The job is still a dream,” said Kelly. “At the end of the summer or other school breaks, I look forward to going back to see my students and to meeting new ones. While obviously having the freedom to do anything I want or need to do during breaks is nice, it speaks volumes about what a great job it is that I do not mind going back to work.”

“The past four years have felt like both a very short and incredibly long amount of time,” he said, noting that during the pandemic, his duties expanded beyond the normal reach of physical education. "I filled in for world language, pre-K, kindergarten, library, art and many other classes, providing both online and in person lessons at the same time. I brought students down for activity-based reading lessons," he continued.

“I feel as if each year brings new, unforeseen challenges and new opportunities to help students,” Kelly said. “It feels as if very little changes day to day but when I look back across an entire year or several years, there has been a ton of growth. My goal is to make this change keep trending onward and upward toward better education for my students.”

In the four years Kelly has been in East Haddam, he has advocated for the value of physical education and physical activity. Because of this, physical education classes expanded to pre-K, where students previously did not have PE in the district. He also began teaching adapted PE, which did not exist before. The school’s Kid's Heart Challenge participation and fundraising has nearly tripled since Kelly took over running the event.

Kelly has had a profound impact on his students, developing close bonds with them. “All of my 350+ students get their own special nickname for my class,” he said. “I run seven physical activity-related fun or holiday-themed events for the school each year.

“Some of my classes at Eastern gave extra credit for volunteering at different Willimantic school events and I saw how valuable the color runs and other events were for the students' development,” said Kelly. “One of the best ways I feel I can encourage movement in my students is by making it fun, engaging and purposeful.

“In October, as an end-of-unit throwing assessment, I transform the gym into the ‘haunted gym’ and my students get to become ‘ghostbusters’ whose job is to hit the different spooky targets with a variety of themed balls to remove the ‘curse,’” he said. “During the unit, I communicated that we are practicing proper form and aim for an important throwing mission soon. My first-year students are intrigued, and my veteran students are excited and motivated to practice because they want to improve from last year.”

This is just one example of how Kelly is getting students excited about physical education classes. He also began a turkey trot that occurs around Thanksgiving, where the students run around the school, with him joining them dressed as a turkey and carrying a speaker.

In December, as an end-of-unit assessment for the creative movement and balance unit, the students complete a winter-themed obstacle course. During that week he dresses up like the Grinch and carries around a stuffed animal dog (Max). In April, Kelly started a fitness egg hunt to help students prepare for fitness testing, where students get to search the playground for sports ball-shaped eggs. Inside each egg is an exercise that they must complete before putting the egg back and finding as many as they can.

“I have students who need extra activity throughout the day come visit me for short periods between classes,” Kelly said. “I ‘hire’ students who lack positive male role models in their lives as my ‘assistant equipment managers’ so I can teach them to inflate balls, retape badminton racquet handles, tighten holds on the rock walls and other skills, and I am starting a mentorship program where older students that struggle socially or need SEL (social and emotional learning) support are learning to teach younger students.”

Receiving the Teacher-of-the-Year award is especially meaningful to Kelly as he notes that being a PE teacher can come with the need to prove oneself to others.

“I thought it would be a long struggle of trying to earn respect in my school and the educational community, but I am pleasantly surprised that it was not as long of a fight as I imagined,” he said. “I am very proud to know that not only my students feel so strongly about my teaching, but my peers also value my role in the school and do not see me as a teacher that just rolls some balls out and babysits for an hour.

“Because of how Eastern’s professors inspired me, the PE program is a little brighter in this small town.” Kelly said, “As I started this school year, I reflected on how far I have come and how far I still have to go.”

Written by Marcus Grant