March Teacher Spotlight: Mrs. Sweeney

Deepika Joshi

 Mrs. Sweeney is an AP and Honors English teacher that has taught at Centreville High School for the past eight years. She double-majored in English and history with an emphasis on British literature and British history. Her inspiration for teaching stems from the passion she has for English and her desire to let students understand the power language holds. Her biggest inspirations are: “For caring, strength of character, the ability to persevere it is my mom. She’s an incredible woman who never gives up. For my love of reading and writing and my striving to be the best English teacher I can, it is my uncle who passed away this past September. He was not only my English teacher in high school, but I model myself on his academic integrity, caring, compassion, and intellectual curiosity”. As a student of her’s for two years, I have gained the benefits of improving my reading and writing skills, learning the importance of maintaining good work ethic, academic integrity and compassion. She immensely cares about her students continually improving and has always been ready to assist them in any way she can.

Her experiences from teaching has given her memories that she will forever cherish: “I’ve been very lucky to have many memorable moments so far in my teaching career. I’m not going to lie, attending graduations and watching students I taught walking across the stage always makes me cry. Even if they didn’t like the class or me, I still played a small part in helping them to find their voices and begin the journey to adulthood. But if I have to pick one it’s the following: Like here in Fairfax County, where I used to teach in Nevada, open enrollment for AP classes was the norm. A young man enrolled for AP Literature and it soon became evident there was a reading deficit. Turns out he was reading at a 3rd grade level. I met with him, his parents, and his counselor and I asked that instead of focusing on the AP curriculum might we not focus on helping him to be reading at or above grade level by graduation. So, as far as his classmates were concerned, he was reading the same literature they were, and completing the same tasks—but in reality, with the help of our librarian, we worked on his reading skills and in conjunction his writing skills. You could see him transform in his confidence levels as the year progressed. When he graduated, he was reading at grade level and his writing had improved immensely. He passed Nevada’s version of the SOL’s for English and he scored a 2 on the AP exam. I was so proud of him! He worked hard all year and I think of that 2 as one of my greatest victories. He went on to college and graduated”. Her enthusiasm while teaching, her eagerness to see students find their capability and the love she has for reading and writing are always seen while sitting in her classroom. Furthermore, I have also noticed that her personality creates a very welcoming environment in her classroom, pushing her students to strive for the best.

As this is her first year teaching AP Literature after many years she says: “My favorite part of returning to teaching AP Literature after many years is the fact that I’m revisiting old friends and making new ones—I’m referring to the works explored, of course. It’s so wonderful to be able to focus on analysis rather than simple comprehension. I also love the more mature conversations we have—the thought processes are much deeper and disagreements about meaning or author’s purpose are more complex.

What’s been different is that I worry students are only concerned with the grade bump and not so much with the rich tapestries afforded them, especially in the poetry arena.

As of this year, the course itself hasn’t really changed at all. However, there are changes afoot for next year according to College Board and I’m hoping to attend a training in June along with Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Filsinger that’s going to prepare us for what’s coming.” As her AP Literature student, I have enjoyed being engaged in conversations with complex analysis and exploring many pieces of literature that are not always easy to comprehend. Moreover, with the guidance of Mrs. Sweeney I have seen many improvements within my skills.

I was curious as to what her favorite books were–knowing choosing one would be a difficult choice for her: “I have way too many favorites to narrow it down to one book and one author, as my students know. I will say there are books I reread every single year: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Persuasion by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and the entire Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.  I am reading all the time. I couldn’t imagine not reading. One of the best people to ask for advice and insights regarding careers in the field of English are English teachers.” Her advice to rising AP literature students and those who are planning to further their studies in English are as follows: “My advice to rising seniors planning on taking AP Literature is to come in with an open mind and a positive attitude. It’s a challenging class—that’s the nature of the beast, but the learning and growth opportunities are immense and are available to you if you are willing to put in the time and effort. It will be worth it! My advice for students who are focusing their studies in the English field is simply for them to be sponges. Read everything you can, including literary criticism—allow for the majesty of words to wash over you and then use all that knowledge to craft your writing skills into deeper and more meaningful compositions. Always remember: language is the most important tool you possess and if you wield it wisely and well—you can do anything”.

As to what might surprise people about her, she stated that, “Something that might surprise you about me is that I love superhero movies. Sometimes people think I spend all my time reading and analyzing Shakespeare (which I LOVE to do), but give me a great superhero on a quest and I’m hooked. I own all of them and can’t wait for Captain Marvel and the final Avengers film (although that’s going to make me very sad….that there will be no more).” Many may not know, but she has traveled to many places around the world. When asked about her favorite destination she mentioned, “We have been very fortunate to be able to travel to so many places. It’s hard to choose just one, but if I had to then it would have to be England. That’s because I double-majored in English and history with an emphasis on British literature and British history. There’s just so much to see, do, and learn about. We’ve met wonderful people who have opened up chapels, and manor ruins that are normally closed to the public because they are so happy that an American has taken such an interest in their history. I can never get enough!”

Mrs. Sweeney is a remarkable women and teacher that I have been very fortunate to know. As her student for two years, her love for reading, writing and her desire to see her students do better has always stood out to me. In addition to being an outstanding teacher, she is one of the strongest women I know. The greatest challenge she has overcome in her life so far is “beating cancer twice. It’s an insidious disease that nobody, especially children, should ever have to suffer through.” Regardless of the struggles she has faced, her ongoing passion for teaching and her compassion towards the world has inspired her students in many ways beside just learning English. I find myself very fortunate to have gotten the chance to understand that what she is trying to partake on students. As I take the next step of my life in college, I will also carry her wisdom and teachings with me. I am very excited for her future students to enjoy the roller coaster ride of Sweeneyland while finding their potential and love for language!