Photo Courtesy of Kirsen Pillow
Cheering on History
March 6, 2023
If you love world history and dogs, then you may have a lot in common with first-year World History teacher Kirsen Pillow.
Originally from West Virginia, Pillow went to UVA for an undergrad and earned her bachelors degree in Psychology. She became a teacher during the pandemic as she felt motivated by the social justice movements that were gaining momentum and how polarized the media had become.
“I felt a calling to be part of the solution, and being in the field of education was the best way to ensure that young adults would be able to discuss tough topics with respect,” Pillow said. “I just so happen to also love history,” she added.
Pillow especially likes European royal history. “Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in the SOLs, and the subject matter tends to be the least relevant to students,” said Pillow. “I try to bring relevance to the topics by bringing in stories about individual experiences,” she added.
For example, when discussing a harsh topic like the tragic experiences of Henry VIII’s six wives, she tries to highlight how different life was for women in that society. “The misogyny those women experienced, and the overall absence of justice, are very relatable themes for students,” she stated.
Until she was 12, she lived in Bluefield, West Virginia, on the southern border with Virginia. The area is famous for coal mining, and not far from where the movie October Sky was based. She later moved to Fluvanna in 2003 and has been a Fluco ever since. She says her favorite thing about Fluvanna is that everyone knows someone here.
“I know so many people who would go out of their way to give me a hand without a second thought. I’m truly grateful for that,” she said.
In her spare time, she loves to play fetch with her dog Ashby and read. She is currently reading the A Court of Thorns and Roses series. “I just love a good bit of escapism. It’s a fantasy series but it is grounded in great character arcs and relationships,” she said.
Pillow is in her first year as Cheer Coach, but has always had a place in her heart for cheer.
“I’m a Fluco Cheer alumni. I also did all-star cheer in high school, which is dedicated to competition rather than sideline cheerleading. During undergrad at University of Virginia (UVA) I was also on the club competitive team. I couldn’t let it go after graduating, so I coached cheer and gymnastics with Crossroads Gymnastics, formerly Friendship Gymnastics. I coached for eight years, including running the all star cheer program,” Pillow said.
“Last year, I was working at FCHS as an intern during my graduate program. I had heard murmurings that the cheer coach position might be opening. I considered the possibility of coaching, but at the time I wasn’t sure where I would be teaching in the fall,” she said. “I had some of my former athletes from my last job at Crossroads Gymnastics come and find me in the hallway and ask me to coach. I was still on the fence for a while. However, when I found out there was a teaching position opening here at FCHS, I knew that I couldn’t resist coaching cheer here as well. As a former Fluco cheerleader, who has an intense passion for the sport, the whole situation just felt too serendipitous to turn down,” added Pillow.
With time management not being on anyone’s side, Pillow said that she struggles with being both a teacher, as well as a coach. “This is my first year teaching. It may not be my first year coaching, but it is my first year coaching both sideline and competition. This year has been a total learning curve, and I tend to be really hard on myself with (both real and perceived) shortcomings. I feel an intense need to give more and do more for both my students and my athletes,” she said. “I am always reflecting on how I can be a better coach and teacher. That being said, one thing that helps me balance my time is being intentional about getting rest,” she added.
There are two things that Pillow wants students to know about her. “I am on their side. There are times when it may not feel like it, especially if they are facing negative consequences for a choice or action. However, my ultimate goal is to help you grow as humans. I hope that you remember that time I didn’t take your work a month late and you choose to be more responsible in the future,” Pillow said.
“Second, I want my students to know that I empathize with them. I see you on the days you struggle, on the days you’re tired, on the days you want to mentally check out. I have those days more often than you think,” she said.