Recounting an influential teacher’s career, in reverse


Kevin Keegan, a journalism teacher at Blake High School, has decided to retire. Keegan helped run the student newspaper and was considered one the most favorite teachers at Blake High School. (Dennis Chan/PHOTO BY DENNIS CHAN/DENNISCHAN.SMUGMUG.COM)
Columnist

It’s not often we can draw a direct line from the past to the future or from the present to the past. But sometimes we can:

June 25, 2012: The Washington Post publishes an article about a Montgomery County teacher named Kevin Keegan.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

June 23, 2012: WRC (Channel 4) broadcasts the season finale of “It’s Academic,” the long-running high school quiz show sponsored by Giant. It was taped in May, so the outcome was no secret around the hallways of James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring. Blake’s team — consisting of Lucas Irvin, John Beers and Mary Aronne — beat Holton-Arms and Montgomery Blair, then went on to defeat teams from Baltimore and central Virginia to be crowned regional champs.

It is especially sweet because Kevin Keegan, the journalism teacher who coaches the team with Joe Caulfield, is retiring. It’s Keegan’s last year, and they’ve won it all.

“I think if you had scripted it and sent it to Hollywood, they would have rejected it outright as preposterous,” Mr. Keegan, 58, says.

Keegan helped run the student newspaper and was considered one the favorite teachers at Blake High School. (Dennis Chan/PHOTO BY DENNIS CHAN/DENNISCHAN.SMUGMUG.COM)

June 12, 2012: Mr. Keegan sends a farewell e-mail to his colleagues at Blake. “I, in my final 24 hours as a teacher, embrace 34 years of working with some of the greatest students, faculty, and administrators this school system has ever produced,” he writes.

When I talk to Mr. Keegan, he echoes those sentiments. “I probably taught more great students than any other teacher in my generation,” he says. “I think it would be hard to argue otherwise.”

His students have become doctors, lawyers, pilots, businesspeople and, yes, journalists. In 2009, one of them, Lane DeGregory of the St. Petersburg Times, won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

In the 34 years he taught them, Mr. Keegan’s students have been honored 18 times for producing Maryland’s top high school newspaper.

May 14, 2003: A headline on the front page of The Post reads, “Grammar Glitch Pushes PSAT to Rethink, Rescore.” The story describes how, for the first time in 20 years, the Educational Testing Service has agreed with someone who complained about how a question was marked. The person is Kevin Keegan, who has spent months marshaling evidence that a passage students were asked to critique was grammatically ambiguous.

Nearly 2 million tests are rescored. Mr. Keegan hopes it has pushed a few students up into National Merit Scholar territory.

June 2001: Mr. Keegan leaves Rockville High School to go to Blake. He’s recruited by Blake’s principal, Carole Goodman, who wants a journalism program that’s as good as the school’s vaunted performing arts program.

June 1992: Mr. Keegan is named Montgomery County’s Teacher of the Year.

One day in 1979: We lay out the Rampage at a building near the train tracks in Takoma Park called Suburban Printing. It smells of warm wax, the substance we use to affix the columns of type to blue-gridded layout boards. Everything seems covered in wax: the floor, the X-Acto knives, the tiny rolls of 1-point lines we use to make boxes and borders.

We joke and laugh and carry on as this wonderful thing — equal parts information, entertainment, outrage: a newspaper — comes to life beneath our hands.

Mr. Keegan’s girlfriend, Linda, is there, which blows our minds because we hadn’t thought of teachers as having girlfriends, of being human.

Autumn 1978: Mr. Keegan asks if I’d be interested in joining Rockville’s newspaper, the Rampage. A few months later he lets me write a column.

Summer 1978: The principal of Rockville High, Joe Good, interviews a 24-year-old for a job at the school. Kevin Keegan has an impressive qualification for a high school teacher: He’s already been teaching freshman English at the University of Maryland. But this job will include overseeing Rockville’s journalism program, a different beast entirely.

Remembers Keegan: “He said, ‘Do you have any journalism experience?’ I said no. ‘Did you work on your high school newspaper?’ No. ‘Did you work on your college newspaper?’ No. ‘Did you ever take a journalism course in your life?’ No.

“He said, ‘Mr. Keegan, give me something.’ I told him that I delivered the newspaper for four years.

“He said, ‘You’re hired.’ ”

I’m happy he was. Enjoy your retirement, Mr. Keegan, and thank you.

Send a Kid to Camp

Teachers can influence lives. So can camp counselors. For proof, just go to Moss Hollow, a summer camp for at-risk kids from the Washington area.

Your donations help support the camp. To donate, go to washingtonpost.com/camp. Click where it says “Give Now,” and designate “Send a Kid to Camp” in the gift information. Or mail a check payable to “Send a Kid to Camp” to Send a Kid to Camp, P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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