Ryan Kennedy’s Journey to Orcas

Ryan Kennedy

Math teacher in plaid, Ryan Kennedy / Photographer: Phaedra Osborn

Whether it was in a math class on the first day of school, a sighting in the halls, or like many of us, during his time spent observing classes last school year, nearly all students have met the new math teacher Ryan Kennedy one way or another. Although Kennedy is an important member of our staff, few know the path that led him to Orcas.

Although a good math student as a youth, Kennedy didn’t fully develop an interest for math until later in high school. Growing up in Atlanta, he attended a large high school where he had one inspirational math teacher for three years who continued to influence him for years to come. “She means a lot to me as a mentor, and friend, so I always had [math] in the back of my mind.”

Even in college, Kennedy didn’t begin with math as a central focus. First majoring in English literature at the University of Kentucky, he then switched to math education after a year and a half. Kennedy would eventually finish his degree at Western Governors University.

However, like many young college students discovering their paths, Kennedy felt that he needed more experience in order to truly figure out what he wanted to pursue in life. Before WGU, he took a gap of eight years; during this time, his travels led him to France and Spain, where he pursued a career in the cooking industry. Although teaching math was always on Kennedy’s mind, he feels that it was beneficial to explore alternatives. “I needed more life experience in order to figure out what I truly wanted to do. I’m glad I did those things too,” said Kennedy. “They’re the reason I ended up on Orcas Island.”

Inevitably, the desire to teach lured Kennedy back to college in 2015 with the intent of getting the credentials needed to become a math teacher. Reaching this goal required Kennedy to balance a degree and a teaching certificate on top of long hours already working in restaurant jobs, as well as his home life. “It was a taxing couple of years getting it done.”

Once certified, Kennedy knew he wanted to teach on the island, mainly because of his desire to remain on Orcas for its community, as well as the fact that he had gotten to know OHS through his observation hours last school year. “I really thought this was the place I would like to work,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy finds that he enjoys teaching for the certain moments of clarity it brings in which an individual student or an entire class “lights up” with the understanding of a particular concept. He enjoys seeing the excitement that he also feels when learning something new.

In teaching at OHS, Kennedy finds that he appreciates the supportive administration at the school. “Everyone has been really welcoming and encouraging,” said Kennedy. “They want to provide not just the teachers, but all the students, with as many opportunities as possible.” He reflects that at larger high schools he has experienced, it hasn’t felt as personal as the atmosphere at OHS.

What Kennedy finds most challenging is the wide age range of students he is teaching. He finds it difficult to adjust from teaching seventh graders to seniors in one day. “It’s a different style of classroom management, something I’m still learning a lot of.” This year, Kennedy is teaching Math for Business, Algebra I, and two classes of seventh-grade math.

When asked about his future plans, Kennedy assured that he hopes to stay. “We love it here,” said Kennedy. “No plans of leaving.”