A head-and-shoulders picture of Robin Kinney.

Interim Commissioner of Education Robin Fields Kinney

One of the toughest challenges we face in the education world is finding young people who have the drive, determination and enthusiasm to enter the teaching field. Every school leader knows just how difficult it can be to find high-quality educators to fill the various roles we have.

Among several different initiatives designed to develop our future educators is Educators Rising Kentucky, and the organization held its annual conference and competition in March. I saw hundreds of young people – a record number of attendees – display their passion for the field.

Educators Rising Kentucky is the career and technical student organization for middle and high school students interested in education-related careers.

Beginning in high school, Educators Rising provides young people with hands-on teaching experience. The groups help sustain student interest in the profession and help them cultivate the skills they need to be successful educators.

The efforts culminate in a yearly showcase of what these young students are learning through experience. This year in Louisville, students competed in several different events that touched on every aspect of the teaching experience, including lesson planning, public speaking and even developing children’s literature. The winners of these events get to move on to the national Educators Rising conference this summer.

The amount of enthusiasm and joy these students displayed while showing off what they’ve learned is truly inspiring. We in the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) need to keep pushing for the best resources and support for teachers of this and future generations.

The conference allowed students from 54 different schools within 33 Kentucky school districts to learn more about the education field as well through breakout sessions with educators and experts in the industry. It is one of the earliest possible professional development opportunities these young educators have, and a model for how everyone should come together and learn from each other to better ourselves and the Commonwealth.

The Educators Rising conference also allowed me to speak with students from across the state as we had prospective educators from every corner of Kentucky. Learning about the unique situations and challenges these students face based on their geographic location allows us to craft policy that’s better suited to deal with these issues instead of trying a one-size-fits-all approach.

The individual motivations for each student participating in Educators Rising might be the most important takeaway I had from the event. Many students developed a love for education early on, whether that be because their family members are teachers, they found themselves in an educator role early on with their siblings, or they shared a strong bond with an educator in their life and want to be that kind of role model for the next generation.

Some students weren’t even necessarily there because they wanted to be teachers; some simply wanted to improve themselves and work on skills that will help them in the workforce, whether that’s public communication, management of time or any number of other aspects I know many teachers are experts at that can translate to other fields. Even if these students don’t wind up in the classroom as teachers, providing them the opportunity to work on themselves while emphasizing the importance of education is always going to lead to good outcomes.

I’m also encouraged by the sheer growth of Educators Rising. A record number of students participated in this year’s event, and based on the enthusiasm I saw, I expect another record number of students next year. If you don’t have an Educators Rising program in your community, I encourage you to reach out to your local school districts to get one started!