By Anji Davidson
As a child growing up in Eastern Kentucky, my grandparents were very special to me. I can close my eyes and picture Papaw in his overalls with tobacco in the pocket and his spit cup never far away. I can see my granny in her everyday dress, worn more for practicality than formality, waiting with open arms and a kitchen full of food.
My grandparents were ports in a storm. For a rural girl with a single mother who was trying to finish her master’s program and teach school full time, all while driving a bus route, my grandparents were always there to make me feel safe and loved. Though both are gone now, their memories will be with me always. With them, my love for the people of Appalachia began.
Though my grandparents never had much money, they instilled a strong work ethic in their children, all of whom became successful, educated adults. Contrary to some popular stereotypes, that work ethic is shared by most people from Appalachia. Hard work is a way of life in the hills of Eastern Kentucky.
Adversity, also, is embedded in our culture and history. I have witnessed the look of disdain in people’s eyes when they hear my accent. I have heard numerous offensive comments about being from Kentucky. When I was younger, I sometimes let myself fall victim to this slander, wondering if I should be ashamed of something – although I couldn’t imagine what.
Growing up engulfed by the glare of disapproval leaves a mark. Like a mistaken answer you have tried to erase, the mark is always there, just beneath the surface. These “erased marks” have different effects on a person. Some draw inward, left wondering if they should try to hide their true culture and identity. But others, like me, take it on as a challenge.
Instead of drawing inward, I choose to empower teachers and students to own, love and project their Eastern Kentucky voice and culture. This empowerment can come in many forms, and Kentucky leads the way in creating programs that help teachers and students find their voice.
The Teacher Professional Growth and Effectiveness System and our content networks foster connectivity and deepen our understanding of our standards. Student voice surveys and peer observations aid us in understanding the needs of our students and fellow teachers. Our careers as teachers demand so much more from us than preparing content and building relationships with students. Being aware of programs, opportunities and resources can make all the difference for a teacher working to connect herself and her students to the best strategies and content available.
Though in Kentucky we are at the forefront in utilizing teachers as leaders and expanding professionalism Eastern Kentucky requires something more distinct that will cater to the specific needs of the teachers in this part of the state. The Kentucky Appalachian Teacher Network (KyATN), is a developing project to provide equity for students and educators through increased teacher connectivity and sharing. The KyATN is designed to connect the teachers in Eastern Kentucky with each other and the opportunities that surround them. Teachers can’t transform into empowered, confident leaders if they are isolated in their buildings, afraid or unable to venture out into the professional realm.
Cultivating teachers as leaders empowers students as well. Empowered teachers train students to take ownership of their work and focus on work that is meaningful and important to them. This cycle of empowerment, with the proper nurturing and guidance, will foster a new generation of learners and teachers.
Being involved in professional organizations and meeting with other educators from around the state, either in person or virtually, reveals to us that as teachers, we all share the same concerns and barriers. This revelation – that we are not alone – reinvigorates us. We take that rejuvenation back into the classroom and share it with our students.
The Kentucky Appalachian Teacher Network can help teachers in Eastern Kentucky break down the walls between districts in our region. With more teacher-to-teacher relationships, sharing among colleagues and individualized professional development, we hope to increase teacher connectivity and sharing for the benefit of all of our students. Furthermore, we hope this network will foster the kind of teacher leadership that helps teachers become more collaborative, innovative and reflective.
Great things are happening in our schools. We have to continue to erase those “marks” created by aged ideas and elevate our area of the state by improving our own learning through differentiated professional development and the same collaboration and innovation that we require of our students. Join our efforts by visiting our KyATN Facebook page.
Anji Davidson, a National Board certified teacher, has been a 7th- and 8th-grade science teacher at Jackson Independent School for 22 years. She is currently working in a hybrid position as a teacher leader on special assignment with the Kentucky Department of Education. She was a member of the 2011 Integration District Team that implemented the Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) district wide and is currently the LDC lead in her district. Davidson is the current East region lead for the Kentucky Education Association’s National Board support program.