Wildcat Tracks: Kelly Klemm Gilbert ’96

Sometimes we make a plan for our lives, but God has something else in mind.

Kelly Gilbert was a typical high school graduate; she headed off for college and never intended to come back. “About six weeks into my freshman year, my mom Ila Klemm, a Westminster teacher, broke her foot and needed assistance getting around. I was enlisted to help her, and so back I came!” Gilbert said. “I taught debate to her speech classes a few times throughout my college career, and by the time I was a senior, it was the most natural thing in the world for me to become a teacher. I taught for three years in another Christian school in California, then we moved back to the midwest. Jim Marsh called me one day and asked if I might be able to teach ‘just one class’ of middle school Spanish. How could I refuse?”

That was 18 years ago. Today, Gilbert serves as both Westminster’s Spanish teacher and debate coach. She and her husband, Jared, have a son, Ian, who is a senior at Westminster.

Gilbert is nothing but honest about her high school experience, giving credit to several faculty who made an impact on her. “I’m so thankful that I spent my formative years at Westminster. I was incomplete in so many ways and was kindly corrected and my rough edges filed by so many like Florence Lewis, who helped me learn what it meant to lead, not just accomplish everything on my own,” she said. “Scott Holley, who encouraged me to argue and challenged me when I was wrong; Joni Vander Pol, who pushed me and eventually took the time to teach me an independent study course during her study hall period, which is a sacrifice I marvel at as a teacher now; Tim Baldwin, who showed me what teaching can look like if you really put your heart and soul into it; and my mom, Ila Klemm, who let me try just about everything there was to try in drama, including directing a play my senior year.”

Gilbert’s enthusiasm has come in handy this year more than ever. Teachers are being stretched to the limit with their time and creativity to keep students engaged both in classrooms and virtually. “Teaching both in the classroom and online is really difficult, honestly. It’s been hard to change activities in order to keep distance, but it’s really made me even more creative as a teacher. It can still feel like I’m not up to my usual standards, but I’m trying to balance teaching in two places and family life, as well. I have really vivid dreams about being unprepared for class most nights, but God is still good, and still in control! The students are doing amazingly well. They are happy to be here and we are having a lot of fun in Spanish, and my debate students are really smart—I’m feeling good about our debate season!”

For Gilbert, it always comes back to the kids; she loves her students and it shows. “Teaching Spanish is so much fun. I get to talk to kids about their lives, their families, their plans, their childhoods, and it’s all part of the curriculum. Language is a huge part of our identity, and learning a new language is a great way to say that we care about the people who speak that language. Just look at what happened at Pentecost: all those people were struggling to understand in a second language, but then they heard the Gospel in their own “heart” language, and they could understand, not just with their heads, but in their hearts. Letting ourselves be a little uncomfortable and vulnerable, and learning to value another culture teaches us to consider others first; what a great way to ‘Reach Higher’ and love our neighbor as ourselves!”

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