Interim Commissioner Wayne D. Lewis Jr.

Interim Commissioner Wayne D. Lewis Jr.

I wanted to begin this month’s column by introducing myself. Like many of you, I am a lifelong educator. And I am honored and excited to be serving as Kentucky’s interim commissioner of education.

I am currently on leave from the University of Kentucky, where I am an associate professor of educational leadership. I’m a New Orleans native and have taught middle and high school special education in the New Orleans and St. Charles Parish Public Schools in Louisiana and Wake County Public Schools in North Carolina. While I may have started out in NOLA, I’ve had the pleasure of calling Kentucky my home for the past nine years.

I have another connection to public schools in Kentucky as well. My wife is a former teacher and current high school counselor. We have a 3-year-old daughter who will soon be joining the ranks of the 650,000 children who attend Kentucky’s public schools.

For my first column, I want to recognize all of the outstanding teachers who work in Kentucky’s classrooms. The week of May 7-11 is Teacher Appreciation Week and we at the Kentucky Department of Education will be highlighting all of the great things our educators do.

Throughout the week, the Kentucky Department of Education’s flagship publication, Kentucky Teacher, will be highlighting the amazing things teachers have done during the past year by revisiting some of our favorite stories. Also, make sure to thank important teachers in your life with the hashtag #thankaKYteacher on Twitter.

It’s important that we set aside some time each year to honor our teachers. Being a teacher means being a part of a demanding profession – one that deserves respect and understanding.

Teaching can be physically demanding. It’s often a nonstop whirlwind of activity from before the first student arrives to long after the last bus leaves the building.

Teaching also can be mentally demanding. In any given day, a typical teacher will have five, six or seven lesson plans in his or her head. In addition, that teacher will need to personalize each of those lessons for his or her students, each of whom may be at a different level of understanding and ability.

While the physical and mental demands of being an educator are fairly easy for everyone to understand, I think one of the challenges that we don’t often talk about is that teaching can be a very emotionally demanding job.

We have many students coming into Kentucky’s classrooms who are facing difficult situations outside of school. Some of our students are living in struggling neighborhoods or may not have food in the refrigerator. Others are searching for a kind word, someone who supports their dreams or even an adult who pushes them to work harder because they know they aren’t working up to their potential. For these children, their school can be a haven. It’s a place where they find caring and compassionate teachers, as well as their chance for a successful and fulfilling future. But all of that caring and compassion takes a toll on our state’s educators, and I don’t think it’s a challenge we appreciate fully or recognize often enough.

These days a lot is put on educators. Too often, society polarizes what we do in school versus what happens at home as the cause for the achievement gap and other issues facing students. The truth is, both contribute. Family, home, resources and what happens at school all have worked together to create a complex problem that we must work together to solve. It isn’t all on the shoulders of teachers, nor should it be. But we must do everything in our control to ensure equity and the opportunity for each child to reach his or her potential.

Teachers, I understand the tremendous work you do and how hard it can be. I remember the long nights planning for classes, the weekends spent on grading and paperwork. I remember the frustration of searching for a way to reach that one student in class who was still struggling, and the joy I felt when I finally found a way to reach them.

It’s a tough job, but never forget, it’s one of the most important jobs in Kentucky. Everything we do should improve teaching and learning for students and doing what’s best for them and their future.

Parents, please take time to recognize your child’s teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week. Even just a note of thanks dropped into your child’s folder or an email expressing your appreciation for what a teacher does for your child can make the teacher’s day.

Personally, I want to thank every school teacher in Kentucky for everything you are doing for your students and for the future of the Commonwealth. You are appreciated, you are valued and I look forward to working with you in the coming months to make a difference for the children of Kentucky.