- Erin Ball was named the 2020 Kentucky Middle School Teacher of the Year and the 2020 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.
- Ball keeps her students up-to-date with topics that are happening around the world in hopes that when her students move on from her classroom, they are able to make educated decisions
By Jacob Perkins
Erin Ball, a language arts teacher at Georgetown Middle School (Scott County), said that her mother tells the story of walking in on Ball teaching her stuffed animals when she was only 3 or 4 years old.
Even at that point, all of her stuffed animals had a book.
“I always loved to play school,” Ball said. “From a really young age, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher.”
Ball was named the 2020 Kentucky Middle School Teacher of the Year and the 2020 Kentucky Teacher of the Year at a May 20 ceremony at the Berry Mansion in Frankfort. Secretary of Education and Workforce Development Derrick Ramsey, Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis and Valvoline CEO Sam Mitchell were on hand to make the presentation.
“It is a tremendous honor and privilege. … I think that I’m still a little bit in shock,” said Ball. “The opportunity that this brings to promote public education in Kentucky is exciting.”
Ball credits the teachers that she had growing up for instilling a passion for reading in her, a passion that she is now passing on to her students.
“I had some really remarkable teachers all throughout my schooling, but especially in elementary school, that really cultivated a love of reading in me, a love of learning,” Ball said. “They challenged me and they invested in me.”
One of these teachers that Ball remembers very fondly is Jackie Crabtree, her 2nd-grade teacher at Summit View Elementary (Kenton County).
“Mrs. Crabtree noted that I had an interest in reading really, really early in the year and she encouraged my reading in every way,” said Ball. “She asked me about my preferred genres. She checked up on what I was reading each week and made very specific book suggestions based on my interests.”
Ball said that she recalled a time when she tried to check out one of the Harry Potter books from the library, but the librarian told her that she wasn’t old enough. When Mrs. Crabtree saw how upset this made Ball, she bought the whole series for the class.
“I know she cared deeply about my love for reading and was committed to growing it.” Ball said.
Ball was inspired by these lessons and has taken them with her into her own classroom reading.
“At the beginning of the year I take interest inventory over what my students like to read so that I can give them specific recommendations,” she said. “I show them that reading is a good thing. It’s a fun thing. It’s something to do because you intrinsically enjoy it, not something you should do to earn a free pizza or a free t-shirt.”
Another way that she invests in her students reading is through her classroom library, a library that she aims to keep as diverse as possible. Having a diverse selection of books allows her to tackle one of her goals as a teacher, closing the achievement gap for African American students, which makes up the largest minority group in her school.
“There’s a lot of research that supports that giving African American students books that include protagonists and storylines that are relevant to them and their culture, it helps them to connect with reading,” she said. “I try to grow my personal classroom library to include a lot of diverse titles. I also try to provide curriculum that features African American and minority voices, like Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Coretta Scott King and Sojourner Truth.”
Ball said that in her classroom, they not only celebrate African American history month, but they also focus on African American literature as much as possible throughout the school year.
Along with putting an emphasis on African American literature, Ball also keeps her students up-to-date with things that are happening around the world in hopes that when her students move on from her classroom, they are able to make educated decisions.
One of those topics that she has focused on is refugees. Her students read novels that were written by refugees and Ball brought in a refugee to speak to her class to try to build empathy among her students and understanding about their situations.
“I have no intentions of swaying their political decisions,” she said. “I hope that when they graduate and move on to college or career, that they have developed skills not only to be successful in school, but to be successful in society. I want them to know how to develop their own opinion, how to defend their opinion, how to research and provide evidence to support their thought process.
“I want them to value diversity in society. I want them to develop resilience to overcome adversity in society. As often as possible, I try to make my lessons relevant to what they’ll be doing outside of school no matter what track they pursue.”
Ball received $10,000 and a commemorative art-glass statuette from Valvoline. In addition, the Kentucky Department of Education will provide an ambassadorship or suitable alternative for Ball, who also will represent the state in the 2020 National Teacher of the Year competition.
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Erin Ball firstname.lastname@example.org