2021 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year Christopher McCurry uses poetry as an outlet for students

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Christopher McCurry, Kentucky’s 2021 High School Teacher of the Year, teaching in his classroom.
Christopher McCurry, Kentucky’s 2021 High School Teacher of the Year, teaching in his classroom. McCurry aims to leave a lasting impact on the lives of his students, using poetry to provide an outlet to discover their true selves.
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  • Christopher McCurry, an English teacher at Lafayette High School (Fayette County), was named the 2021 High School Teacher of the Year.
  • In addition to introducing his students to a world of poetry, McCurry has introduced a new course at his school relating to issues surrounding race.

By Jacob Perkins
Jacob.perkins@education.ky.gov

Becoming Kentucky’s High School Teacher of the Year isn’t the only impressive thing on Christopher McCurry’s resume – he also is a poet.

The Paris, Ky., native and graduate of Bourbon County High School has been writing poetry for more than 10 years, dating back to his time as an undergrad at the University of Kentucky.

After graduation, McCurry applied for several master of fine arts programs for poetry. At the same time, he also was applying for teaching jobs.

While being waitlisted for the poetry programs, Lafayette High School brought McCurry in as an English teacher in August 2011.

“I wanted to keep that passion for poetry and writing by bringing it into the classroom and showing students that it is real and alive,” McCurry said.

Each year when McCurry’s class studies poetry, he lays out books of poems written by Kentucky authors – many of whom he knows personally.

“My favorite thing is when they read poems they like and they realize they can write their own poems,” he said, adding that the poetry unit in his class allows his students to choose between poetry, storytelling or graphic novels.

“I feel like the students who write the poems come out with a deeper connection for themselves,” McCurry said.

Christopher McCurry poses for a photo on the first day of school.
Christopher McCurry poses for a photo on the first day of school. Lafayette High School (Fayette County) brought McCurry in as an English teacher in August 2011.
Photo submitted

In addition to introducing his students to a world of poetry, McCurry has introduced a new course at his school relating to issues surrounding race.

For five years, from June 2013 to June 2018, he served as the Kentucky Coordinator for the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, a network of teachers educated at the Bread Loaf School of English, a summer graduate program of Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vt.).

McCurry developed an Advanced African American Literature course for Lafayette while studying at the Bread Loaf School of English.

He said he felt compelled to design the curriculum in response to unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. As an educator, he felt he needed to find a tangible method to make progress from within the classroom.

The course is offered to all grade levels at Lafayette and there are no tests. Students are assessed through projects, performances and presentations. McCurry said the course starts with literature and then uses skills the students are developing in their English classes to explore complex topics unique to the Black experience in the United States.

“Students really need to learn the history and literature of African Americans in our country. Not just Black students, but also White students,” McCurry said. “We all work together to create this environment that we live in, that we know right now is pretty divided and anxiety ridden.”

Lafayette High School Principal Bryne Jacobs said McCurry’s passion for teaching has resulted in a positive rapport with his students and a willingness for them to participate in his classes.

“When it comes to issues pertaining to social justice and equity, these are always issues that he tries to model in his class positively so he can help be part of the change that he really hopes occurs in our community,” Jacobs said.

McCurry has been the recipient of several awards during his teaching career, including three student-nominated FAME Awards – awards given at the district level in Fayette County based on nominations from graduating seniors. He also was nominated for the 2015 Kentucky Teacher of the Year Award.

Prior to joining Lafayette, McCurry spent a semester with Colegio Americano, an international baccalaureate high school in Quito, Ecuador, while earning his master’s in secondary education from the University of Kentucky.

McCurry’s passion for teaching began in high school, where credits his English teacher Cristopher Clark for being the first teacher to challenge him.

“The challenge and personality that Mr. Clark had really changed my life as a student and motivated me to become a teacher myself,” McCurry said.

Since that moment, McCurry credits many teachers and colleagues for pushing and inspiring him on his education journey. He said he is “crushed with gratitude” to be named Kentucky’s 2021 High School Teacher of the Year, which was presented during an Oct. 22 virtual program co-sponsored by Valvoline and the Kentucky Department of Education.

“I’m just humbled and proud to represent my school and my history,” he said.

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