High School Teacher Achievement Award winner, Aretha Whaley, Casey county High School

Aretha Whaley didn’t begin her professional career as an educator.  

When she graduated from Eastern Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in English, she took a position as an assistant manager at a bookstore to be surrounded by her love of literature. 

Ten years ago, Whaley left her job to focus on a career in education. She earned a master’s in education from the University of Louisville and a master’s in education with an emphasis in school leadership from Campbellsville University. 

Now, the Casey County native is a 10th-grade English teacher at Casey County High School. 

“I believe reading is the gateway to all learning,” she said. “My priority as a teacher is to foster a lifelong love of reading to my students, just like I had going through school.” 

In an attempt to surround her students with literature and to instill a deeper love of reading, Whaley took the initiative to develop a library full of books in her classroom that students would want to read during their daily reading time. 

“Three years after I created my classroom reading time, every English teacher in my school began to have a library and sacred reading time in their classrooms,” she said. Whaley is a fellow of the Louisville Writing Project, a network of teachers, university faculty, researchers, writers and community educators working to advance writing and the teaching of writing. She also has assisted with her department’s career planning unit by working with her English students to refine their writing pieces for scholarships and internships. 

“My goal in aiding my students’ writing is to set them up for school and job security in their futures,” she said. 

Outside of teaching in her classroom, Whaley serves as the vice-president high school representative on the Kentucky Council of Teachers of English, where she leads professional development for fellow teachers to spread the love of books and writing. 

Because of her exemplary work, Whaley was recognized as one of the 2024 Kentucky Teacher Achievement Award winners in the high school category. 

“My passion is turning teens into readers,” she said. “That passion is driven by my core belief that reading is the driving skill in our lives.”