Kentucky 2013 Teacher of the Year Kristal Doolin laughs with her 7th-grade language arts class about how misplaced puncuation can change the meaning of a sentance at Corbin Middle School (Corbin Independent). Photo by Amy Wallot, Nov. 8, 2012

Kentucky 2013 Teacher of the Year Kristal Doolin laughs with her 7th-grade language arts class about how misplaced punctuation can change the meaning of a sentence at Corbin Middle School (Corbin Independent).
Photo by Amy Wallot, Nov. 8, 2012

“Surreal” — that is the word I found myself saying over and over last month as I stood in the Capitol Rotunda before my family, colleagues and dignitaries and was named 2013 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. Although I knew I was a middle school finalist, the concept of winning was not something I could fathom. So, when I won, I was overcome with emotion and humbled by the recognition. I still am.

Like many teachers, what I do doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to me because it’s, well, what I do. Nevertheless, many people were suddenly asking what I do and why I do it. For me, what makes the difference isn’t the method, but the passion. I believe we as teachers must be students first — excited to learn. Our classrooms should be “living” spaces growing and changing as needed with lessons always ready for the revision required to fit the needs of our audience. This idea, reflective teaching, isn’t a new one. However, in my opinion, with our new Common Core State Standards, this has never been more important than it is today.

John Dewey said, “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” It is as though he was speaking specifically about our time. Our students are 21st-century learners who literally hold the world in their hands daily and will be expected to use technology that hasn’t even been invented yet in their future careers. If we aren’t using 21st-century tools to reach them, not only are we missing a great window of opportunity, but we are also committing a great disservice to them. I see amazing things happen when I bring technology into my classroom and use it — not just as a cool gadget every once in a while, but as much a part of the classroom as the tables and chairs. 

I considered the role of educational technology this evening as I responded to my students via our Edmodo classroom. Edmodo allows me to create a community of learners that are connected beyond the confines of the clock and walls of our classroom. With our digital classroom, I can be available to my students even after school. This evening, for example, I’ve replied to three students — one homework question, one club-related question for a parent and one comment about a class project. It takes five minutes of my time to respond and means the world to the community I’ve built in my classroom. Additionally, I, like many teachers, teach in a small community far away from many possible resources. Technology allows me to bring what isn’t here to my students through tools like Skype and give my students a voice through a backchannel discussion area like Today’s Meet. The response from students alone makes these tools worthwhile. The magic that results is a bonus.

Technology is not a fad or a bandwagon. It is an integral part of our lives and futures. Walt Disney, a firm believer in progress, said, “Change is inevitable, but growth is optional.” This quote hangs in my classroom to remind me and my students not to become complacent.

I invite you to seek growth through the most prevalent area of our time — educational technology. Let us practice what we preach and step out of the comfort zone to learn new skills.

I will be doing the same as I begin the great adventure of representing our state for the next year. I am excited! I look forward to all the year has to offer. I cannot wait to meet and learn from other dedicated educators here in Kentucky and across the nation. “Surreal” can hardly describe it.

Kristal Doolin, a language arts teacher at Corbin Middle School in the Corbin Independent school district, was named the 2013 Teacher of the Year on Oct. 17, 2012. During her year-long reign, Doolin will write a monthly column for Kentucky Teacher that chronicles her experience as a classroom teacher. The column will run the second Thursday of each month.