June 10, 2021

For the love of teaching

Honoring three retiring Andover legends
by Allyson Irish

This year’s trio of retiring faculty members represents a remarkable total of 108 years of service to Phillips Academy. Beyond their superb mastery of subject, these teachers—Mary Fulton, Kevin Heelan, and Maria Litvin—embody Andover’s non sibi ethos and showcase what it means to live and work in a purposeful manner.

Portraits by Dave White

Kevin Heelan

Instructor in Theatre and Dance

Years at PA: 38

As the curtain comes down on Kevin Heelan’s Phillips Academy career, the theatre instructor has found himself in an unusual state: speechless.

When asked what he has learned from students during his long tenure, Heelan took a lengthy, tearful pause. “I learned a lot from them,” he says. “It’s almost impossible to put into words.”

Heelan is described by colleagues and students alike as charismatic, caring, and intuitive. He liked to use his “outsider status” to get the most out of his students and—as one alumna said—“to retell age-old stories in innovative new ways.”

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Heelan moved with his family to Baltimore when he was 10. Adjusting to life on the East Coast took some time. Heelan recalls having to listen intently to the way people spoke in order to understand. “It was a bit of a shock and it really drove me nuts. It took me a while to get used to,” he says. Perhaps this early focus on speech and pronunciation was a harbinger of his future.

Many students, including Matt McGrath ’07, say Heelan’s public speaking class was one of the most important and impactful ones they took at PA. “This was a setting I felt zero comfort in, and the instruction and advice Mr. Heelan wove into that course absolutely helped me to conquer my discomfort,” McGrath says.

Although Heelan dabbled a bit in acting as a youngster, it was not until graduate school that he got serious. After graduating from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Heelan attended Smith College, where he began to write his own plays. From there, he moved to New York City to produce plays on and off Broadway. Heelan and his wife, Kim, enjoyed their time in the city in the late ’70s, but at some point the couple decided they wanted more stability. A family connection to Phillips Exeter and a chance meeting at a football game eventually led to an interview with the PA theatre department, a move that Heelan says was one of the best decisions in his life.

Looking back on his Andover career, Heelan reflects on his chosen path—the lessons imparted and learned.

“What I’ve learned is humility and that life generally is a struggle. But in theatre and life, the curtain always goes up and you stand there—and either you do it, or you don’t.”

Mary Fulton

Instructor in English

Years at PA: 36

Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare. For English instructor Mary Fulton, these are not merely literary giants but close friends she has loved and learned from for decades.

“I find myself marveling at their writing over and over again. They always surprise you with their insights, and that is part of the fun of it—it’s always a little different,” Fulton says.

Fulton has loved literature for as long as she can remember. Although she majored in history, halfway through her senior year at Mount Holyoke College she was told of a job opening at Northfield Mount Hermon in the English department. Fulton applied, got the job, and has been an English teacher ever since.

Colleagues in the Department of English effuse about Fulton—her passion for literature, thoughtfulness, brilliance, and recitation of lovingly memorized texts.

“Witnessing Mary’s joy and care as a teacher has been one of the most inspiring aspects of my 15 years in Bulfinch,” says English instructor Kate McQuade.

Another English instructor, Chris Ishizuka-Wade ’08, remembers feeling out of place as a first-year student and having Fulton make him feel comfortable in her English 100 class. “She made me feel welcome in ways that I still can’t put into words; her class and her teaching made me think about books and language and writing in ways I never had before. She helped me not only believe—but know—that my thoughts mattered.”

As Fulton prepares to leave Andover, she has taken stock of what she will miss most: the students, her colleagues, and the joy of teaching in her cherished Bulfinch classroom.

“When I think about why I’m a teacher now, and what kind of teacher I aspire to be,” Ishizuka-Wade says, “I always find myself tracing a path back to a desk in that cramped, chalky room in Bulfinch with Mrs. Fulton citing line upon line from a book without looking at it, a brand of magic that I, delightedly, cannot forget.”

Maria Litvin

Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science

Years at PA: 34

Maria Litvin was 25 when she emigrated from Russia to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1979. She spoke no English and had a 5-year-old daughter—as well as a master’s degree in mathematics and education. Her first job in the United States was wrapping gifts at a local toy store because it required little, if any, talking.

It’s been a long, fascinating journey for Litvin, who has taught mathematics and computer science at Andover for 34 years. And through it all there has been one constant: a love of working with students.

“I enjoyed all of it,” says Litvin. “One of the things that I have loved about being here is that I was given a lot of freedom to be creative. It was always a new adventure.”

During her time at Andover, Litvin not only taught all levels of computer science and math, but also was active in many on- and off-campus activities. She founded the Computer Science Club in 1998 and has been its advisor ever since, and she led a community engagement program called the Coding Circle, in which PA students taught introductory coding to children at the Lawrence Boys and Girls Club. Additionally, she served as house counselor and complement in several dorms and was a Search and Rescue coach.

But Litvin is perhaps best known for her enthusiastic embrace of math and computer science, subjects she dearly loves and through which she has challenged students to do their best work.

“There are a few people in your learning life who leave a mark,” says Andrew Zurcher ’92. “Ms. Litvin’s clarity of understanding, frankness, professionalism, and kindness are lights, still, by which to steer.”

For a woman who has lived her life in constant motion, always striving to do better, retirement plans are no different. Litvin will continue to consult for the College Board, facilitate Code.org workshops for elementary school teachers, and develop questions for the annual Continental Mathematics League computer science contests for elementary and middle school students.

The adventure continues.

Categories: Academics

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