Elementary School Teacher of the Year Heidi Givens works with 7th-grade students RayAnna Hutchins and Nycheala Smith on reading skills at College View Elementary School (Daviess County). Photo by Amy Wallot, Nov. 27, 2012

Elementary School Teacher of the Year Heidi Givens works with 7th-grade students RayAnna Hutchins and Nycheala Smith on reading skills at College View Middle School (Daviess County).
Photo by Amy Wallot, Nov. 27, 2012

Compassion, the concern over another person’s well-being, is a character trait all teachers hope to instill in students. We give of ourselves every day, not just by teaching the Common Core State Standards, but by being counselors, nurses and sometimes parents to our students. In today’s society, it is important for everyone to contribute to the betterment of the community, whether it is by helping a neighbor bring the trash to the sidewalk on collection day or donating clothes to charity. We can only hope our students will develop compassion and empathy that will prepare them to be productive and caring members of society.

After being honored with the title of 2013 Kentucky Elementary Teacher of the Year, I knew I wanted to use some of my earnings to thank those who supported me through the process. I threw a surprise pizza party for Mrs. Wedding’s class at Owensboro Middle School, where I co-taught during the observation portion of the award process. During the party, I gave the class $100 to do with as they wished. These 5th-grade students started brainstorming different fun games they could buy until one boy said, “Let’s use the money to help homeless kids!” That was all it took; one student after another added to this great idea.

The students decided to put together bags for children in foster care to have when they go into a foster home. They held a stuffed animal drive at the school, collecting over 200 stuffed animals, and used the money to purchase 100 tote bags for the stuffed animals. They wrote letters to nearby restaurants and businesses explaining what they were doing and asking for donations to add to the bags. Their generosity became contagious, and other classes around the school joined in the effort. One teacher decided to have her students collect books to add to the bags, and another teacher added toothbrushes. By Christmas, children in foster care in Owensboro will be getting a tote bag full of goodies to call all their own.

Even though I have been Elementary Teacher of the Year for only a month, I have already had the privilege of participating in several events and received lots of recognition. However, as a teacher I believe no honor can be greater than knowing what the children in Mrs. Wedding’s class have done with my gift to them. They are “paying it forward” and showing that children are just as compassionate as adults are. We just have to give them the opportunity to show it. I hope my Kentucky Teacher columns will inspire you to find ways to pay it forward to your students this year.

I have spent the past 18 years dedicating myself to the education of children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH). I have taught in Massachusetts, Florida and now Kentucky. My teaching motto has always been, “Deaf children can do anything hearing children can do, except hear.” Throughout my tenure, I have tried to “pay it forward” and do what I could to open the doors for DHH children, to guide them as they develop a positive identity and learn how to self-advocate. I believe that DHH children are not impaired; they simply communicate differently than most of us. 

I never realized that winning this award would provide me a platform for improving the education of deaf and hard-of-hearing children across Kentucky. I see myself as an ally to these students and the deaf community. By writing for Kentucky Teacher and by participating in various panels and committees over the next year, I intend to advocate for DHH children and their right: to receive a top-notch education in a language that is accessible to them and to be part of a community that sees itself as a cultural minority and not as a disability. I hope that as you read my future columns, you will see these children as I do. 

Heidi Givens, an itinerant teacher of the deaf and hard-of-hearing in Daviess County schools, was selected as the 2013 Kentucky Elementary School Teacher of the Year on Oct. 17, 2012. This is her first column. She and Allison Hunt, an AP Human Geography teacher at Manual High School in Jefferson County and the 2013 Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year, will alternate monthly column-writing duties throughout their reigns. Their columns will run the last Thursday of each month. Hunt’s first column will run in December.