Picture of Joanna Stevens, sitting at a conference table with her head resting on her hands.

Joanna Stevens

On the first day of the school year, I show each of my classes a clip from the movie “Fever Pitch.” 

Jimmy Fallon plays a teacher who is obsessed with the Boston Red Sox, and Drew Barrymore plays a businesswoman who knows very little about baseball. In one scene, it appears that Fallon is going to propose to Barrymore. However, instead of an engagement ring, Fallon offers opening game tickets.  

It is a cheesy, comedic scene that ignites giggles and eye-rolls from my students. I replay a particular quote from the scene where Fallon is attempting to explain his fandom: “I like being a part of something bigger than me.”   

I relate to this scene. I am not a Boston Red Sox fan, but I am a diehard University of Kentucky fan.   

I grew up going to games at Commonwealth Stadium and it is all I’ve ever known. I tear up hearing “My Old Kentucky Home” play and I’m always excited to see a fellow Wildcat fan wearing UK gear when traveling. I like being a part of the Big Blue Nation. I like being a part of something bigger than me.  

As the teacher representative on the Kentucky Board of Education, I was a part of something bigger than me, bigger than my classroom, bigger than my school and even bigger than my state. I dream that the United We Learn vision will revolutionize education for every student in Kentucky, and that other states will look to our Commonwealth as we become a trailblazer in education.   

As a teacher, I strive to create this idea of being part of something bigger in my classroom. I joke with my students that they already accepted my proposal to come to the opening day of school, but I formally ask them on day one to chase our dreams together. I acknowledge that a love of math is not the common bond that will unite us, but we all have dreams.  

My dream includes strengthening students’ problem-solving, perseverance and collaboration skills as we explore math together, so they are equipped and empowered to chase their dreams when our time together concludes. They may not think they need Algebra 2 concepts to make their dreams come true, but they all acknowledge that they will need essential skills.   

Speaking of the United We Learn vision, we have devoted a lot of time to creating and promoting the Portrait of a Learner. I think this could easily be adapted to create a “Portrait of a Board Member”: 

  • You are an “engaged citizen” as you amplify your voice in support of historically underrepresented students, their families and educators. You listen to their dreams and leverage those aspirations to guide your actions. You welcome opportunities to engage with the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council to discuss race, ethnicity and school climate, and, most recently, school safety.   
  • You are a “critical thinker” as you discuss policies and regulations to strengthen the future teacher pipeline. We have a teacher crisis in our state and you are thinking deeply and making informed decisions to create solutions.
  • You are an “effective communicator” as you exchange ideas and information via email, Microsoft Teams meetings and in-person meetings around the state. You actively listen and speak respectfully. You even rehearse some “elevator speeches,” as we did at the August meeting. 
  • You are an “empowered learner” as your illustrious credentials indicate mastery in your field. You bring decades of experience and knowledge to the table. However, you know we must be innovative lifelong learners and adapt to a changing world.
  • You are a  “creative contributor” as you champion the United We Learn vision and promote Kentucky’s Profile of a Learner. One of my favorite discussions was the “Future School” activity at Lake Cumberland led by Education Commissioner Commissioner Jason E. Glass, where we imagined different school scenarios for the future.
  • You are a “productive collaborator,” where every minute of the meeting is devoted to improving the future of all Kentuckians. The teamwork between the Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky Department of Education helps ensure every student has equitable access to high-quality lifelong learning.   

 In conclusion, I would like to have a toast with our “bottle” of dreams. We toast for important events in our lives: weddings, engagements, anniversaries, retirements and other celebrations. The last day of class is a monumental day for my students and me. I offer a farewell address, where I outline my pride, gratitude, dreams and, finally, offer a toast to my students.  

Today, though, I toast the members of the Kentucky Board of Education. It is my last meeting with you. I am proud of you all. You are educational rockstars devoting your time, intelligence, experience and passion to our students, teachers and communities. When I dream of retirement, I do not think of meetings, but here you are, continuing to show up for our students. I am thankful for you. You welcomed me immediately and made me feel like I belonged in the room where it happens.   

After each board meeting, I was inspired to look for ways to create vibrant learning experiences for my own students in my high school math classroom. I am a better teacher and person because of you all. Finally, I dream for for us, for our students, for our communities and for our Commonwealth. I dream that every student may dream more, learn more, care more and be more because of the United We Learn vision.