She loves the kids and the books

November 29, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

Editor's note: This is the first story in an occasional series profiling teachers who were nominated last year for Washington County Public Schools Teacher of the Year.


Kathy Thornhill loves literature, just not John Milton.

Even so, the teacher spent part of a high school English class the Tuesday before Thanksgiving helping her students digest the 17th-century sonnet, "On His Blindness."

The students were quiet, tentative, pensive and confused.

Thornhill was honest.

"There are a lot of people - English-major types - who love this writer. I'm not one of them," she told her class.


Students say they appreciate the relationships Thornhill has developed with them. They're not the only ones impressed - last year, Thornhill was a finalist for Washington County Public Schools Teacher of the Year."The two things I like best about this job: I just love being in front of a classroom of inquisitive minds. We laugh, and we have fun everyday, and I love the material, very passionate about literature ... The kids and the books, the two best things," Thornhill said.

A 32-year veteran of teaching at South Hagerstown High School, Thornhill teaches two Advanced Placement literature classes and a theater class. In the spring, she will teach another Advanced Placement literature class, an advanced drama class and a ninth-grade honors class.

She said she is passionate about Advanced Placement. At the completion of the classes, which often are considered among the most rigorous of high school offerings, students can take optional exams for college credit.

"If they can tough out an AP class, statistics say they will stick out all four years of college and get that degree because they have learned to do what's tough," Thornhill said.

Senior Mike Dunham commented about the literature as his classmates parsed the seventh and eighth chapters of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" before moving onto Milton's poem during the first of Thornhill's two AP classes.

To Mike, 17, Gatsby is hardly great. He is more like a "love-struck fool," Mike said, when Thornhill asked students what they thought of the title character's decision to take the blame for his lover's hit-and-run accident.

Mike said after class he plans to take the AP exam, setting the senior up to join the growing numbers of Washington County students who have attempted to get college credit for the classes. Last year, students took 1,147 AP exams, passing 511 of them.

"I think Ms. Thornhill's a tremendous teacher because she actually cares about the individual students when she teaches," Mike said.

About 75 percent of the people on Thornhill's Christmas card list are students or former students, she said. For a lover of words, she is succinct when she explains what draws her to the students.

"Oh, it's love," she said.

Thornhill said she enjoys all of her classes. Freshmen are enthusiastic and open to nurturing, while drama students bring a sense of play to classes, Thornhill said. Often, she has the same students for different classes year after year.

"That is such a joy to have kids come back and have them multiple times. It's like having family in the room," Thornhill said.

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