STERLING – Getting kids excited to learn is not rocket science. Just ask Sterling High School physics teacher Timothy Kelleher.
The Massachusetts native has been teaching at Sterling for three years and, in that time, has made a lasting impression, teaching biology, chemistry, special education, physical science and physics.
Kelleher also was instrumental in last year’s push to bring an electronic vehicle kit to the high school. The EV kit is a physics-based project that allows students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to build a working electric vehicle. The students then deconstruct it for next year’s class.
“It’s a hands-on learning tool for kids that gets them outside of the classroom and actually using what they learn to build something with their hands,” Kelleher said. “When our principal came to me with the idea, I was very excited to get involved.”
Kelleher cares deeply for his students and challenges himself to find new ways to keep his students engaged. He said he feels hands-on learning is instrumental.
You don’t forget a teacher like Mr. Kelleher. Every day you went to his class, you knew that you would actually do something and not just listen to lectures and write notes the whole time. He made the class fun and wanted you to know he cared about whether or not you came. I’ll never forget him.”— Former SHS student Alexys Poff
“With science in general, there’s been a real push to get away from predominantly just writing and, instead, have the kids go out and experiment themselves,” Kelleher said. “Once a week, I’ll have my students do a lab so they can show what they learned, look at that data and interpret it with me because that’s what science is, and that’s where I think the real learning is.”
Kelleher has a degree in economics and was a day trader in Chicago before becoming a teacher. But the work was unfulfilling, and Kelleher said he needed something more.
“If you’ve ever switched careers in your lifetime, then you relate to that moment when you wake up to go to work, and you’re sitting on the edge of the bed thinking, ‘God, I need a change,’ ” Kelleher said.
Recalling an early love of science and the high school chemistry teacher who sparked it, Kelleher decided to further his education. After graduating with a master’s degree in chemistry, Kelleher interviewed with several high schools, eventually saying aloha to Chicago and accepting a position at a local high school in Hawaii.
“She paved the way for me to stay interested in the sciences, and that’s when I knew what I wanted to teach,” Kelleher said.
Four years later, the Kellehers welcomed their first daughter, Rose, and moved back to Illinois to be closer to family. He has taught at Sterling since.
In that time, Kelleher has learned many valuable lessons as an educator.
“When you first come into teaching, you think you have to teach your content in a specific way – your way,” Kelleher said. “But it’s not about that. Listen to your students, and be prepared to adapt and pivot to what they need in order for them to relate to the content.”
Kelleher has learned that in order to teach his students, he first needs to connect with them. The connection doesn’t happen over lab manuals and data but through shared experiences – precisely what Kelleher has built with his students in his short time at Sterling.
“I always tell them after every lesson or test it’s not about how much science you learned. Did you have fun? Was it interesting? Did you want to walk through my door, be prepared to do something and then learn from that experience? And I’m proud to say that for the majority of my students, they’re excited to come to class and do just that,” Kelleher said. “I want kids to know that I care about them. Rapport is so huge, and building that rapport throughout the school year is a big part of what I enjoy about my job.”
Kelleher’s efforts and attitude have created an impression with his students that carries past the graduation stage.
Listen to your students, and be prepared to adapt and pivot to what they need in order for them to relate to the content.”— Timothy Kelleher, Sterling High School science teacher
“You don’t forget a teacher like Mr. Kelleher,” former SHS student Alexys Poff said. “Every day you went to his class, you knew that you would actually do something and not just listen to lectures and write notes the whole time. He made the class fun and wanted you to know he cared about whether or not you came. I’ll never forget him.”
The Kellehers now have a second daughter and will move to Florida, where he will take a position at a new high school in North Naples. Kelleher is sad to go but bids a fond farewell to students and colleagues.
“Sterling has been a great place for my family and me these past three years,” Kelleher said. “I’m sad to leave the colleagues and students I’ve come to know in that time, but I hope they don’t forget about me because I won’t forget them.”