The Imperfect Classroom

Kevin Dailey

Kevin Dailey, 2024 Kentucky Teacher of the Year

In an effort to better capture and celebrate the wealth of knowledge and expertise of teachers across the state, I set out to interview and observe educators from every corner of Kentucky. The process was simple: find teachers who create classrooms where kids want to be, get to know them and bear witness to what makes them special, then celebrate that experience. It is my theory that every single school in Kentucky has teachers that I can learn from and are worth celebrating. None of these teachers are perfect, but through their imperfections they all have something special they contribute to their students and their community. I hope by sharing my experience with these teachers, our communities can have a window into our classrooms and other teachers can begin to embrace their own Imperfect Classrooms.

If you’ve ever been to an event where Newport High School (Newport Independent) is in attendance – an academic team meet, a basketball tournament, or a bowling match – you’ve likely seen or heard Nate Green. His loud, raspy voice and beaming personality is seemingly everywhere all at once when it comes to everything Newport. He is the ultimate advocate for his school and his community, but it starts with his students.

Nate graduated from Berea College with an undergraduate degree in theater and earned his master’s degree in teaching from Northern Kentucky University. For the last several years, he has taught middle school social studies at Newport High School, a 7th-12th grade school in Northern Kentucky, but he makes it widely known that what he really teaches are human beings. As a fellow teacher, it is refreshing to hear, especially with all of the pressure placed on teachers to emphasize academic standards, curriculum, and testing, that what we really do is still all about helping young people grow. That we should all put our kids first.

That focus on the whole student is woven into everything in Mr. Green’s classroom, from his Monday morning check in with students, to his teaching methods, to the even more unique YouTube series he created called “Coffee with Mr. Green.” These quick episodes emphasize the human experience and help his students learn how to identify and understand their feelings and emotions so they are more equipped to navigate their experience. I had the pleasure of being on an episode of Coffee with Mr. Green during my visit to Newport and I got to feel firsthand what his students and colleagues already know about him.

Nate Green

Nate Green, Newport High School

Nate makes you feel seen and heard in a way that is authentic and meaningful. One of his students said that everyone gravitates towards Mr. Green because “he is always there.” He shows up. For many of his students that means more than anything he could ever teach them about social studies. Even his colleagues notice how invested he is in his students and school. His former co-teacher Alexa Robinson told me that he connects with so many students because he is truthful about his own emotions and experiences and that when students are in his classroom, he is teaching them without them feeling like they are in school.

With every single interaction and interview about Nate, it became crystal clear that in addition to all of the content knowledge and practical educational experience he brings to his classroom, he is set apart by how much he genuinely cares about his students. Above all other things, Nate is a fan of his students.

He loves them. He supports them. He embraces their whole selves and makes sure they know that no matter what happens, he is there for them. One of his students told me a story about a conversation they had earlier in the school year. The student asked Mr. Green, “which of your students do you like the least?” (this is a pretty common question for middle school students to ask … who do you like and who don’t you like is big in their world). Nate’s response was that he doesn’t dislike any of his students. Even when he doesn’t like their actions or behaviors sometimes, that doesn’t affect how he feels about them as humans. For Mr. Green, a person is not defined by a bad decision or poor choice and that is so important for his students.

It was an absolute pleasure to get to know Nate and his students. This experience has reminded me that one of the most important things that can be done as an educator is to show up. It brought to the surface how much teachers actually mean to their students and their community and that a school provides so much more than an education. Mr. Green is fun, spontaneous, engaging, truthful, compassionate, and his students’ number one fan.

This series is designed to provide a glimpse into classrooms across Kentucky, but moreover, to celebrate our public school teachers’ contributions to their students and their communities. If you know of a teacher who creates an amazing classroom environment and brings excitement, optimism, and excellence to education in Kentucky, email Kevin Dailey.

Kevin Dailey is a teacher at Ballyshannon Middle School in Boone County, Kentucky and is currently serving as the 2024 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. All opinions in this story are his and not necessarily reflective of the Kentucky Department of Education.