Amber Hays, Elementary School Teacher Achievement Award Winner, Thelma B. Johnson Early Learning Center, Henderson County

At an early age, Amber Hays, a National Board-certified early childhood educator, knew she wanted to be a teacher.

“School was always a safe and enjoyable place for me,” she said. “I looked forward to school each and every day because of the love and encouragement shown to me by my own teachers.”

Hays was the first in her family to graduate from college, earning a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Kentucky and a master’s degree in special education from Murray State University.

She currently teaches at Thelma B. Johnson Early Learning Center (Henderson County), where she teaches preschoolers social-emotional, self-help, communication/language, cognition and motor skills to aid in their development.

Hays serves as the site coordinator for her school’s 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) grant, where she implements a new math curriculum for students who are identified as being below age-level for a math benchmark. The curriculum offers a fun, collaborative way of teaching math to students.

“This is the fifth year I have acted as the site coordinator and taught under the 21st CCLC grant,” she said. “We saw almost a 6% increase from 2018-2019 and the scores continue to make steady improvement.”

Hays also is an advocate for social and emotional learning (SEL) being implemented in public education.

“As a teacher and a mother of children in middle school, I worry that SEL is not an important part of school curriculum,” she said. “We must continue to teach students how to identify their emotions, express themselves appropriately and show empathy towards others.”

Based on her exemplary work as an educator, Hays was named the 2007 Walmart Teacher of the Year. In 2023, she was named as one of the Kentucky Teacher Achievement Award winners in the elementary school category.

“My biggest accomplishment and greatest skill are my ability to develop meaningful relationships with all students that continue beyond their preschool year,” she said.

When Hays isn’t teaching, she enjoys reading at her home in Henderson County and going to the lake with her husband, Cody, and their blended family of four daughters.