What an amazing experience it has been to represent teachers throughout the commonwealth as the 2014 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. I really did not know what to expect, but every event and opportunity was a chance to learn and be inspired by those around me. I learned that our nation is full of inspiring teachers that make a difference in the lives of their students.
From Kentucky to Hawaii, and all places between, teachers work hard to advocate for the kids they teach. I also learned that it is time teachers took a place at the educational policy table, even if it makes us a little uncomfortable. Additionally, something that was brought into focus for me by this opportunity was that our state of Kentucky is educationally one of the best in the nation.
As a teacher of the year, I am part of the 2014 class of State Teachers. During our award year we meet several times as a group to discuss issues, learn about national trends and bond through experiences like Space Camp. Every time we are together it is like a homecoming. Just imagine being with 52 other teachers that are excited to teach, excited to learn, and are constantly looking for ways to build up those around them. There is no ego, no competition, no professional jealousy. I know these teachers build and affirm their students too. That kind of positive energy breeds on itself, and creates an atmosphere of creativity, vision, communication and sharing. I wish every teacher could experience that circle of support every day.
I believe that one of the best ways to increase the learning and feelings of well-being in our students is to create a school climate that builds on teachers’ strengths, values their time and applauds their talents. We do a great job building up our students, but I think we need to do that for one another, also.
All around the nation, conversations are turning to the power of teacher voice, and bringing teachers to the table. It is pretty sad to think that teachers have not had a real place at the table for important dialogues about education.
An opportunity that stood out to me this year was being invited to Washington, D.C., for the Education Commission of the States National Forum. Educational policy was never on my front burner. I never really thought that I could have a voice in policy. This experience opened my eyes to the thoughts and processes that are behind many of the issues in education today. The legislators and the commissioners in attendance were very interested in teachers’ perspectives. I realized that I do have information to share and valuable experiences that can help move our profession forward for the betterment of the children we teach.
As teachers, we need to become increasingly interested in the policy side of education because it affects us daily. Even if we are not sitting around a table in Washington, our perspective is important.
A few weeks ago I was talking with a woman who was opposed to the common core. As I talked to her I realized that she knew very little about the standards but was adamant that students were not capable of mastering them. As she talked I kept thinking how she was eagerly sharing her anti-core views with anyone that would listen. Was I doing anything to let the public know that I believe the standards are good, and that they will help our students be college and career ready?
As the Kentucky Teacher of the Year I also realized what a great state we have. Our Commissioner of Education is a rock star in policy circles. When Terry Holliday talks, people listen. I felt proud as he addressed the group in Washington and served on panel discussions. All the teachers of the year were impressed and saw firsthand Kentucky’s leadership in educational reform.
As I heard other states talk of the problems they were facing in regards to education, it made me thankful. Education in our state may not be perfect, but we seem to be doing many things right. Other states look to us as a model and are eager to learn from the progress we have made.
As I have visited teachers across the state, and have spoken to various groups, I am convinced that Kentucky’s teachers are among the best in the world. We have been ground-breakers in reform, and have stayed the course. Through our efforts with the standards, the relationships we develop and our attention to the whole child, we grow students ready for the world. I think that makes us all Teachers of the Year!
Holly Bloodworth is a teacher at Murray Elementary School (Murray Independent).