2013 Kentucky Teacher of the Year bids farewell after ‘defining, incredible year’

Kristal Doolin
Kristal Doolin

In my first article last year, I used the word “surreal” more than once to describe being named 2013 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. In the closing statements of that article I said, “I cannot wait to meet and learn from other dedicated educators here in Kentucky and across the nation. “Surreal” can hardly describe it.” Almost one year later, I find that final statement prophetic because I now know that “surreal” really doesn’t do this process justice. It is bigger than anything I could have imagined last October and has both helped me find my voice and altered my perspective.

In short, I feel like someone has replaced the windows in my classroom and their limited view with larger telescopic windows to the world. How does one achieve this? It’s not easy.  It is accomplished with a careful, purposeful combination of people, places and conversations.

Over the past year, I have traveled to many places thereby experiencing things I would never have been able to do on my own.  In addition to locations here in Kentucky, I’ve been to the Grand Canyon and Scottsdale, Arizona, Washington D.C., (including a visit with Second Lady Jill Biden in her home and the president in the Oval Office of the White House), St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, New York City and Princeton, New Jersey.  Each trip this year has made an eye opening, life changing impression on me, but as I said early on, this role is about more than me, so each one also impacted my family and students as I brought them with me physically and virtually.

As part of the State Teachers of the Year Class of 2013, I’ve worked with over 54 incredible educators from every state and territory who have inspired and challenged me with their stories and enthusiasm.  For example, Kansas Teacher of the Year, Dyane “Smoke” Smokorowski uses project-based learning to bring the world to her students and proved to be a kindred spirit as we found that we have uncanny things in common. Or Pamela Cort, New Mexico Teacher of the Year, who taught my daughter French and made me laugh until I cried countless times. Or Heidi Welch, New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, who as a child had the kind of personal experiences that make one want to give up, but brings that understanding to her classroom as a positive example of what education and passion can do.  I have been privileged to share my journey with these and the other members of the “Class of 2013”.  I admire them all and confess that as my year comes to a close, I am filled with emotion about not seeing these inspiring people every few months.

The State Teachers of the Year Class of 2013 held their final dinner in Princeton, N.J., earlier this month. Submitted by Kristal Doolin.
The State Teachers of the Year Class of 2013 held their final dinner in Princeton, N.J., earlier this month. Submitted by Kristal Doolin.

Being a representative of our state, I have also participated in countless interviews and discussions with writers, legislators and educational leaders. A highlight of these is definitely when I was quoted in the New York Times alongside U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other leaders in education.  A year ago I could not have imagined my thoughts were important enough to have the impact they have had this year. I’ve learned so much from so many people and understand more fully what a leader Kentucky has become in education in our nation.

Now that I am nearing the end of my year of service, I cannot imagine a way to relay my feelings accurately, but a big thank you is at the top of the list. I am forever indebted to so many people who in one way or another assisted me this year. First and foremost, I could not have survived without my wonderful daughter, Tara, and husband, Terry, who both accompanied me and held me up during this often very intense year.  Additionally, I am so grateful to my extended family, friends, students, parents and coworkers at Corbin Middle School, Corbin Schools Superintendent Ed McNeel, Corbin Board of Education, Commissioner Terry Holiday and Donna Melton at Kentucky Department of Education, Jim O’Brien and Ashland Inc., and finally, my parents and all of my former teachers who put me on this path.

Thank you seems too small a word to fully describe my appreciation for such a defining, incredible year, but thank you, thank you, thank you for allowing me to represent you.  As I said early on, I am not the “best” but represent all teachers of Kentucky who are evolving professionally every day to be the best and bring the best to our students. Please know that I will continue to grow and endeavor to earn this gift. My journey doesn’t end here.

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 wrote a monthly column for Kentucky Teacher that chronicles her experience as a classroom teacher. The is her final column.