I had the privilege in September of presiding over my first in-person Kentucky Teacher of the Year ceremony at the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda.
There are two parts of my job that I find the most enjoyable. The first is when I get to visit classrooms and see our students deeply involved in learning. I sometimes even get the opportunity to teach a lesson again myself. Having that direct contact with students helps ground me and reminds me why I do what I do every day.
The second part of my job I really enjoy is any time I have the opportunity to honor Kentucky’s outstanding public school teachers. At the 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year ceremony, I got the chance to help recognize 24 outstanding public school teachers from across the state. Together, these teachers have almost 400 years of teaching experience and have influenced the lives of literally thousands of students over their careers.
These two dozen educators were selected as Teacher Achievement Award winners out of the nearly 2,000 nominations we received from all 171 school districts in the state. This was the first time we received at least one nomination from each school district in the program’s 22-year history.
The Teacher Achievement Award winners included Ashley Buchanon, a 4th-grade instructor at Rockfield Elementary in Warren County who has taught for 10 years. Her nominator said Ashley finds a way to connect with every one of her students and shows compassion and love for all of them. She also uses any structure or strategy that will help her students master the content and set them up for success.
Charlena Williams of Hancock County Middle School has taught for 28 years and has spent the past six years teaching middle school reading and social skills. Her nominator said that while being a special education teacher can be challenging, she works tirelessly to make sure her students get the best education possible. Charlena is always encouraging them to do their best and finds resources to help accommodate their different needs to help them succeed in all areas.
And then there’s Steven Thomas, who’s now in his 11th year as a welding instructor at the Green County Area Technology Center. His nominator said almost every student who comes into his program walks out with various welding certifications and the soft skills they need to be ahead of the competition. Steven also exemplifies one of the three big ideas in United We Learn about collaborating with our communities by always being willing and able to work with business and industry leaders to give his students co-op and internship opportunities.
Those are the accomplishments of just three of our 24 Teacher Achievement Award winners. All of the others – including Kentucky Elementary School Teacher of the Year Kelly Gates of Hopkins County, Middle School Teacher of the Year and 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year Mandy Perez of Crittenden County and Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year Amber Sergent of Woodford County – all go above and beyond to help their students find success in the classroom and in life.
None of us enter the education profession to gain acclaim or be praised. Our 42,000 public school educators go into their classrooms every day to help the students in their care gain the skills they will need to pursue their own dreams. But, if we’re all being honest, it feels great to have someone thank you for the exceptional work you do.
I want to say thank you to all our educators and I encourage you to join me. Send your student’s teachers a brief note thanking them for the patience, the extra care or the extra resources they provided to your child. Or perhaps drop them an email to let them know you see all the effort they take with your student and you appreciate it.
I also want to say congratulations and thank you to all the teachers who were nominated for the 2023 Kentucky Teacher of the Year program. Nominations will open in November for the 2024 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. I want to encourage everyone to think of a teacher who is making a positive impact on a young person’s life and nominate them for this recognition.