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Teacher inspires Ursuline students — and feeling is mutual

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Dialog reporter

Brendan McGivney returns to Wilmington school he attended, imparting his love of English, writing

 

WILMINGTON — Brendan McGivney knew he wanted to be a teacher. It just took him a few years – and thousands of miles – to get there.

McGivney is in his second year as a full-time member of the faculty at Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, where he teaches English and social studies to eighth- through 10th-grade students. He feels right at home at the school, which is girls-only at the middle and high school levels. And, just as he was inspired by teachers in his past, he is now inspiring others, including sophomore Maureen “Reenie” Carroll.

“Mr. McGivney is a very understanding and relatable teacher,” she said. “He is younger, so he is better at connecting with his students in a positive and helpful way.”

Ursuline teacher Brendan McGivney discusses a project with freshman Amina Hsi. McGivney attended Ursuline until second grade. The Dialog/Mike Lang

McGivney, 28, isn’t sure he deserved to be nominated for an article in The Dialog, but he was happy to find out he is making a positive impression on his students.

“I want to meet the students on their level in a way that explains texts in some tough, different sort of themes or stories; in a way that is relatable to them and that they can engage with; in a way that is specific to what their lives are like on a day-to-day basis,” he said last week at the school.

Each student is unique, he added, and he tries to keep that in mind at all times, including when he is grading papers at his Wilmington home.

“I try to think about who that student is and where they’re coming from,” he said.

Inspired by teacher

Ursuline wasn’t totally foreign to McGivney when he came on board as a long-term substitute two years ago. The Hockessin native attended the school until second grade, which was previously the last class that accepted boys. He moved on to St. Edmond’s Academy, then to Archmere. He recalled teachers at both of those schools who stirred his interest in creative writing and in learning.

“I wasn’t into English until eighth grade,” he recalled. “I had a teacher, Mr. (Al) Waters, who let us do creative writing. It was the first time that someone not only encouraged our creative writing, but he went through it and showed us how to make our stories better. As soon as I hit Archmere, I took every English class I could. My senior year, I was taking four English classes per semester.”

He still keeps in touch with a teacher from high school, Evan Wingle, with whom he spent hours after school discussing literature and creative writing.

“I think that really showed me the more personal side of teaching. I got to see the kind of person more than the authority figure who has the key to knowledge. It was a real discussion. I think that really inspired the way I run my class now.

“I’m trying to get them to ask each other questions and struggle with some of these topics in a way that they feel comfortable, but they are coming up with the questions and answers.”

Carroll said McGivney is always willing to give the students ideas on how to improve their writing and incorporates poetry and storytelling into his class, and he makes sure to thoroughly explain a topic before moving on.

“He is one great teacher. I have improved my writing skills immensely over the course of his class, and he has inspired me to work harder to reach my goals,” she said.

McGivney is inspired himself by being around girls all the time. They feel free, even around a male teacher, discussing what being female means to them, he said.

“The big problem is the men’s room. There’s only one in the whole school.”

 

Have tweed, will teach

He clearly feels at home at Ursuline, but McGivney’s route there was far from direct. After graduating from college, he worked as a lobbyist for the healthcare industry. When he was getting ready to go back to school to study public health for food systems, he realized he had never worked in that industry, so he became a chef at a farm-to-table restaurant in Baltimore.

From there, McGivney went in a completely different direction, taking a job delivering tattoo-removal equipment all over the country.

“It seemed like a nice time to kind of be by myself, having ended something that I loved and seeing the stress of that,” he recalled. “It was kind of a real time to center myself and see all of the country. It’s beautiful.”

Then he found out about the opening at Ursuline. “I’ve always had the look of an English teacher. You know, tweed blazers when it’s cold.”

He loves the atmosphere at Ursuline and the girls’ response to the school motto, “serviam,” or “I will serve.”

“Seeing the way that students not only just take it because they have to but live by that is really inspiring, and it really makes me want to live up to it more and more. They don’t always know that they’re serving. They just do it because that’s who they are, and I love that,” he said.

When he isn’t teaching or doing something related to his job, he likes creative writing, bird-watching, dinners with friends, reading and going to concerts. He has a book of creative writing that is ready to be published. He focuses on personal narratives and short stories. He also translates French poetry on the side.

He’s not sure he deserved a profile article in The Dialog and hopes he inspires all of his students, not just Carroll. Her interest in McGivney’s class is very obvious, he said, and appreciated.

“Reenie has made it her job to be the first person in my class every day. The streak is alive.”

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