Tina Henry, a special education teacher at Boyle County High School and a 2023 Kentucky Teacher Achievement Award winner, gives each of her students a chance to shine.
Henry knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was a child. She went to the elementary school where her mom worked to help teachers after school, which is where her love for education began.
During high school, Henry attended school and church with a girl named Amanda, who had Down syndrome. The two were best friends and Henry wanted Amanda to be successful. She would get ice cream with her, help her with homework and go to her house. Henry still thinks about Amanda while teaching, crediting her as the biggest reason she wanted to become a special education teacher.
Seeing the “lightbulb go off” when one of her students knows they understand something is one of the biggest accomplishments Henry feels she has made in education.
One of her favorite lessons to teach is cooking. For this lesson, students share their ideas on what meal to cook, which the class then votes on. The students must find a recipe, make a list of grocery items, pay for the items, prepare the food, cook and clean up afterward. Henry makes sure each student is involved in every part of the process of making a meal come together. After, the students get to enjoy what they have prepared.
Henry finds that lessons surrounding functional skills are her most important ones. This cooking lesson focuses on teamwork, money and community skills, as well as cooking and cleaning.
Academics are important to her, but Henry is passionate about her students being able to function in their community, classroom and home. Her students enjoy this lesson just as much because it gives everyone a chance to “shine.”
One project that she has seen contribute to her school’s culture is the involvement of her students with the school store. During sixth period, the last class of the day, the school store sells snacks to the students and teachers. Henry talked with the business teacher about having her class purchase snacks for the store. With this project, her students have the opportunity to go shopping, work on money skills and interact with the school store workers.
This project has allowed Henry’s students to meet other students and teachers in the school. A couple of years ago, one of her students asked to help store workers sell items. This student was very shy and rarely talked to other people, so this was a huge step for them.
Henry believes that this venture has been beneficial, not just for her own students, but for everyone involved.
Ensuring her students continue their education outside of the classroom, Henry has her class volunteer at Pioneer Industries in Danville for one to two hours every day. The students are tasked with cleaning and helping in other areas, while also talking to the people who work there.
The Blue Bird Market, Morning Pointe and Centenary United Methodist Church are some of the other places her class has gone to volunteer. These experiences are important for her students, giving them practice in using their social skills and having interactions with employers from different jobs. Volunteering at Pioneer Industries even led to a job there for one of Henry’s students.
No matter how hard things may get, Henry’s motto and message to other teachers is to “keep on keeping on.”
She said teachers must remember why they started teaching in the first place: the students. Students show up each day to learn, looking for the knowledge that teachers are there to give them.
“We need to remember why we’re in the classroom,” Henry said. “It’s because of those precious bodies sitting in front of us.”