October 1, 2023

Pete Kelly: Teaching is Power

Pete Kelly believes in the power of teachers.

Pete Kelly is dean of UMW's College of Education. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

Pete Kelly is dean of UMW’s College of Education. Photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi.

As a kid growing up in a chaotic environment, he faced his share of struggles in school. A couple of key teachers (Mr. Wright and Mr. Stoffsky – he still remembers their names) took the time to make a difference, inspiring Kelly to become a teacher himself.

Now, as dean of UMW’s College of Education (COE), Kelly is in a position to make his own impact – on the Mary Washington faculty who train future educators and on those they’ll go on to lead in the classroom.

“Good teachers have enormous power to make a difference in the lives of students,” he said.

Kelly – whose wife, Julia DeLancey, is a professor of art and art history at UMW – worked for a while teaching history in high school, where he gravitated toward learners like himself, who tend to choose seats at the back of the class. He earned a master’s degree in special education, spent six years teaching in the prison system and, like President Paino, came to Mary Washington from Missouri’s Truman State University.

Kelly’s résumé provides the breadth of experience he needs in his job, where he works to empower others. And with funding back on track for the renovation of Seacobeck, set to be COE’s new home, UMW is poised to offer educators-in-training more power than ever, he said.

“It’s a remarkable demonstration of support for teacher education at UMW.”

Q: What brought you to your position at UMW?
A: The opportunity had great appeal. Social justice and diversity are a part of the DNA of this place; these are important ideas for me and for teacher preparation.

Q: How is UMW helping with the region’s teacher shortage?
A: We’ve developed ways to allow students to earn a degree and certification during their undergraduate programs. And we’re working with high school students and community colleges to encourage young people to teach, and to streamline their education.

Q: How has teaching changed throughout your career?
A: Meeting the needs of diverse student populations, including English language learners and those with disabilities, is one of the biggest challenges new teachers face. We must prepare teachers to meet the learning needs of ALL the students in their classrooms. Our democracy depends on it.

Q: What item in your office is most meaningful to you?
A: In my first year of teaching, my principal gave me a Weeble. It’s a small toy from the ’70s with a round bottom. When you knock it down, it pops right back up. New teachers need this superpower of resilience.

Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: Cooking a meal to share with others is my favorite thing to do. I’m proud to have shared my love of cooking with my kids.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: If you can cook a good meal, you will always have friends.

Q: What’s the best gift you ever received from a student?
A: I still have a folder with notes from students from when I completed my student teaching 30 years ago. Those were very important to me early in my career. Thanking a teacher who made a difference in your life is a powerful thing to do.