By Matthew Tungate
Kentucky’s teachers of the year cover many spectrums in education. They work at elementary, middle and high schools in small, medium and large districts. They are in the early, middle and late stages of their careers.
But all three share two loves: their students and their jobs.
Holly Bloodworth, a 3rd-grade teacher at Murray Elementary School (Murray Independent), was named the overall Kentucky Teacher of the Year as well as Elementary School Teacher of the Year at a ceremony in Frankfort last week. She will represent Kentucky for National Teacher of the Year.
Melanie Trowel, 7th- and 8th-grade science teacher at Carter G. Woodson Academy (Fayette County), was named Middle School Teacher of the Year, and Joanna Howerton Stevens, a mathematics teacher at Lincoln County High School, was named High School Teacher of the Year.
Bloodworth, in her 27th year teaching, said her classroom environment is what sets her teaching apart. That starts with home visits before schools starts, which Bloodworth said she loves.
“They feel like they know me and that we’re connected like a family. I try really hard to feel like a family in my classroom,” she said. “Teaching is so much about relationships. It’s really hard for me to teach a child that I don’t know and understand and love.”
Sometimes schools make the mistake of blaming families when students struggle, but teachers have no control over that situation, Bloodworth said.
“Our job is to love them as much as we can and do everything we can for them while they’re at school, and then to build as many bridges to those families as we can,” she said.
Trowel, in her 15th year of teaching, said she tries to emulate the teachers who made a difference for her. She doesn’t remember her teachers for the specific information they gave her, and she knows “that’s not what they’re (her students) going to remember me for: ‘Oh man, she showed me how to do that quadratic formula.’”
What she remembers about influential teachers is how they spent extra time with her, helped her fill out her college application or opened her eyes to opportunities she didn’t see, Trowel said.
Likewise, she looks for what motivates students or gives them hope.
“Love the kids,” Trowel said. “Look at each kid as if that’s the child you can make an impact on. Imagine that kid 10 years from now, 20 years from now and how we’re laying seeds to get them there.”
Stevens, in her fourth year teaching, said motivating students is an important part of her classroom as well.
“We’ll give our best effort when we think something is important,” she said. “For most people, learning how to graph a parabola is not important.”
But if Stevens can find a way to make information relevant, students find it is important. Sometimes she will give examples from her husband’s job as a civil engineer. Other times she may do something fun, like an Amazing Race theme where students go to different teachers’ classes and solve problems related to their subjects, like surface area and volume of a pie in the family and consumer science class, or dimensions of the new iPhone in a business class.
Stevens said modeled her teaching after her parents who both worked with youth. Her father was a 4-H Extension Agent and her mom was a pre-school teacher who now teaches high school.
“It’s all I’ve ever known, serving others and teaching,” Stevens said. “It’s the most rewarding thing I can imagine doing. Seeing the excitement on the students’ faces when they realize how to do something they’ve been struggling with and witnessing them reach their own goals.”
Her passion for her students is her strongest attribute, Stevens said.
“I work very hard. I knew that teachers worked hard because I watched my mom do it for years, but until you’re doing it, I didn’t realize I would think about my kids 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” she said. “I knew that you took home grading and lesson plans, but I didn’t realize that I would constantly be thinking, ‘How can I teach this better? How can I engage my students? What can I do to help them?’ I think it’s that passion that’s put me where I am, that excitement and drive to give my best every single day that I’m with them.”
Trowel was on her way to medical school when she took a short-term mission trip with Campus Crusade for Christ to the West End of Louisville.
“I think it really opened my eyes that maybe I shouldn’t go to med school. Maybe I should go and become a teacher. I felt this sense of calling,” she said, and went on to earn a degree in special education from the University of Kentucky. “From there I just felt like, ‘This is exactly what I was called to do.’ And I realized I had a knack for it, I had a knack for pushing those kids to just get mad enough to say, ‘I’m going to do this.’”
Trowel said seeing how different her own six children (and four foreign-exchange students) are has helped her differentiate instruction in the classroom. She said she also is very intentional in her instruction. She is intentional about why she gives an assignment, knows where students are through pre- and post-testing, analyzes what information they understood and figures out why they got it or didn’t get it.
“Greatness comes from being intentional, and nobody ever gets there by accident,” she said. “You can’t go into a classroom and ‘wing’ anything. Kids can look straight through that.”
Bloodworth said she does not intend to take the sabbatical that comes with the Teacher of the Year title.
“I didn’t even know that was part of it,” she said. “When the said that I thought, ‘Well I hope I don’t win. There is no way I am leaving my classroom.’”
She does hope she leaves her students with a lifelong love of learning, Bloodworth said – a trait she models for her students.
“I’ve always loved to learn and still do just as much as I ever did,” she said.
Bloodworth encouraged other teachers to do the same by joining professional organizations and even getting National Board certified.
“You are a Kentucky teacher, so be a Kentucky Teacher of the Year every day in your own classroom,” she said. “Don’t get complacent, keep growing, keep learning, keep striving professionally to grow.”
MORE INFO …
Holly Bloodworth, firstname.lastname@example.org, (270) 753-5022
Melanie Trowel, email@example.com, (859) 381-3933
Joanna Stevens, firstname.lastname@example.org, (606)365-9111