Graphic with picture of Doug Henry reading: Middle School Teacher Achievement Award winner, Bullitt Lick Middle School (Bullitt County)

Teaching wasn’t Doug Henry’s first career choice, but after entering the profession, he says it’s been rewarding to help so many students find their passions.

After being in the U.S. army for 20 years, Henry retired and was invited to become a military commandant at Chicago Public Schools by the superintendent in 2005. There he learned the power that teaching students could have.

“[I] discovered when I was teaching that it was really rewarding,” Henry said. “I was training young men and women. The military is very similar in a way.”

But after eight years, Henry decided to move to his wife’s home state of Kentucky and take a position as a history teacher at Bullitt Lick Middle School (Bullitt County) in 2013. Henry said he has always been fascinated with history and has loved sharing with his students.

At the heart of his teaching philosophy is the belief that students are not only naturally interested in learning more, but also that giving students voices and the chance to lead fosters that hunger to learn.

Beyond just innovating in the classroom, Henry began a Junior Reserved Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program to Bullitt Lick in 2022 as an elective, giving students a chance to lead.

“I think student leadership is so powerful because it’s fierce. They see themselves as being role models for others in the school building,” he said.

With JROTC, Bullitt Lick has seen a change in the school atmosphere, with a drop in office referrals and lunch detentions. Henry said he doesn’t have the space to keep up with the number of students who want to be in his class.

For his work in improving Bullitt Lick and introducing new programs, Henry was named a 2024 Kentucky Teacher Achievement Award winner.

Good programs and engaging lessons are important, but Henry said what really matters in the classroom is for students to know that a teacher cares.

“If the student doesn’t have that connection with the teacher, they are not going to really, even if they love history, even if they love English or social science or whatever, they’re not going to be as motivated about doing it unless they know they’re doing it with someone who cares about that person,” Henry said.