January 27, 2017

2017 Catholic Schools Week Supplement

‘Most important student’ leaves his unforgettable mark on teacher

Brittany Geswein holds a canvas that captures her favorite Beatitude and the photos of her students—past and present—at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs School. (Submitted photo)

Brittany Geswein holds a canvas that captures her favorite Beatitude and the photos of her students—past and present—at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs School. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

In more than 11 years as a Catholic school teacher, Brittany Geswein has always had the approach of valuing “each and every student.” Yet, her most rewarding experience in education involved a child who never entered her classroom.

“The year I started my teaching journey as a freshman [in college] was the same year my brother Brandon started kindergarten,” recalls Geswein, a sixth‑grade teacher at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs School in Floyd County. “From the very beginning, I took him under my wing.

“After observing his difficulty with reading, I suggested we have him formally assessed. In the fourth grade, he was diagnosed with a severe reading comprehensive disability and attention deficit disorder. I helped write his plan to assure he was receiving needed accommodations in the classroom.”

She continued her work with her brother through his time in junior high and high school.

“We read together in the evenings and all summer long for years,” notes Geswein, a finalist for the 2016 Saint Theodora Guérin Excellence in Education Award, the highest honor for an educator in the archdiocese.

“We tackled everything from science fair projects and research papers to organizing notes and preparing for tests. We faced every difficult challenge and celebrated every success together.”

Through it all, “Brandon was the most important student I ever taught,” she says.

“This isn’t because he was my brother, but because of what he taught me. He forever changed my daily performance in the classroom and the relationship I have with each of my students. I had high expectations for Brandon’s teachers and wanted the best for him. In the same way, I set high expectations for myself knowing the impact I was having on the lives of my students.

“Working with him taught me the importance of meeting kids where they are and lifting them higher. Learning has to be fun and engaging. Brandon taught me that even those students who don’t like schoolwork can love going to school if they have someone who believes in them.”

The lessons—and the closeness of their relationship—continued until Brandon suddenly died three years ago when he was a sophomore at Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville.

“He died in his sleep from Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, a disease which had lain dormant in his brain for nearly 10 years,” Geswein says.

“With his passing, he taught me a final lesson. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see the face of God. Being a Catholic school teacher is a ministry in which I get to spend my days preparing those with the purest of hearts for their eternal life in heaven.” †

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