Teachers of the Year emphasize high standards, engagement

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Kimberly Shearer, an English teacher at Boone County High School, speaks with a reporter after being named Kentucky Teacher of the Year. Photo by Amy Wallot, Oct. 18, 2011
Kimberly Shearer, an English teacher at Boone County High School, speaks with a reporter after being named Kentucky Teacher of the Year. Photo by Amy Wallot, Oct. 18, 2011

By Matthew Tungate

Getting students college and career ready should be of utmost importance to today’s educators, according to Kentucky’s 2012 Teacher of the Year Kimberly Shearer.

“The skill sets that the kids are going to need to be successful after high school, they’ve changed, and the learner has changed,” said the Boone County High School English teacher, who has seen technology and the global market change in just the eight years she has been teaching. “So I think, as teachers, we need to make sure we’re not teaching our students isolated pockets of information, but that we’re actually teaching them skill sets that are transferable, not just to other classrooms, but to the college classroom and the workplace.

“When we talk about getting students college and career ready, it’s a shift in our instruction. It’s changing how we teach and how we assess them, and we’re making sure that they have these skill sets that they’re going to need to be successful,” she said.

Shearer, who will represent the state in the 2012 National Teacher of the Year competition, was named the 2012 High School Teacher of the Year and the overall Teacher of the Year at an Oct. 18 ceremony held at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort by Ashland Inc. and the Kentucky Department of Education.

Also recognized at the event were Jenni Lou Jackson, an 8th-grade language arts teacher at Corbin Middle School (Corbin Independent), who was named the 2012 Middle School Teacher of the Year, and Elizabeth Ann Fuller, a 3rd-grade demonstration site teacher at J.B. Atkinson Academy (Jefferson County), who was named the 2012 Elementary School Teacher of the Year.

Gov. Steve Beshear; Secretary of the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet Joseph Meyer; Commissioner of Education Terry Holliday; and Ashland Chairman and CEO Jim O’Brien were on hand to make the presentations.

Shearer credited her district’s emphasis on Kentucky Core Academic Standards and data-driven instruction, and her colleagues, who inspire her by example to work harder and be creative, with being named Teacher of the Year.

“I always saw it as my opportunity to represent the instruction that goes on in all the classrooms in my building,” Shearer said of her selection for the award.

All students should be held to high standards, teachers of the year agree

Shearer said one of the central themes to her teaching is that with new Kentucky Core Academic Standards, all students are learning one curriculum – and all should be held to high standards.

“I absolutely believe that it doesn’t matter if a kid is in an AP class, if a kid is in a remedial class, it doesn’t matter – if we hold students to high standards and if we embrace that notion that we’re working with one curriculum for all kids, I do believe that the students will rise to the occasion,” she said.

Fuller said she loves teaching and wakes up “every day excited to come to work because I know I am making a difference in the lives of my students.”

As a demonstration site teacher, she teaches reading and writing to 3rd graders who are two or three years behind academically and tries to move them up to grade level or higher by the end of the year.

“I get results, and my students will rise to the expectations I set for them,” Fuller said. “I feel that I help eliminate excuses for everyone else. If my students can perform at high levels given all the emotional and educational issues they face, I know that everyone’s students can do the same.”

“A lot of time, excuses are made for children in poverty,” added Fuller, in her ninth year at Atkinson Academy. “I just believe they can rise to the same level as everybody else if that expectation is set for them.”

Jackson agreed and said she tries to model for her students what she expects from them.

“It is hard for teachers to pull that out of their students if they don’t demonstrate that themselves,” she said. “If students don’t believe that you are passionate about what you are doing, then they are not going to be passionate about what they’re learning.”

Jackson said she demands excellence from her students, “and they produce great results.”

“Teaching is a ministry to me,” she said. “I know I am called to be an inspiration, guide and role model to young people, while implementing rigor in their academic discipline and demanding their best performance, so they in turn can discover what they are meant to do in life.”

Tips from teachers of the year

Jackson said one of her former 6th graders credited her in a pre-college interview with making him believe that he could be successful.

That student could have fallen through the cracks and “just blended in,” Jackson said.

“Middle school is just such a crossroads; they can go one way or another, and if they just had that one person in their life that can show them the right path, then it could change their life.”

She encourages teachers to praise their students regularly and profusely.

“Even in an 8th-grade classroom, they know that I absolutely love them, and when I tell them they do a good job, we make a big deal about it,” she said.

Fuller encourages teachers to not settle for excuses for poor performance.

“I can get results with the lowest performing students in the neediest school because I believe in myself, I believe in them and I don’t believe in excuses,” she said. “Students in my class love school and love learning because I will do whatever it takes to hook them into my lessons and make learning meaningful and fun. I am always willing to grow and become a better teacher because I know that is what my students deserve.”

For instance, Fuller has partnered with Paws with Purpose, a therapy dog program, for students to read to a “non-judgmental reading partner.”

“They will practice and practice and do anything to be good when their dog comes,” she said.

Fuller also has her students sit on exercise balls rather than chairs because it helps them sit still and concentrate.

“I feel like I have to do a lot of non-traditional things because my kids are not successful in a traditional classroom,” she said. “That’s why they’re in my classroom.”

Shearer encourages teachers to focus on student engagement.

“I work really hard to engage my students and to make my instruction something that they view as relevant, not just to modern society, but relevant to their goals and what they want to do,” she said

Shearer said that desire likely comes from growing up in a military family. She attended six schools in six states by the time she was 11 years old, Shearer said, so she had to be an entertainer to meet new friends and forge new relationships.

“The idea of engaging a reluctant audience, I realized I was good at that,” she said.

For being named teachers of the year, Fuller and Jackson each received $3,000 and a customized, art-glass vase from Ashland Inc., while Shearer received $10,000 and a commemorative crystal-glass bowl. In addition, the Department of Education will provide a sabbatical or suitable alternative for Shearer.

Shearer, however, said she can’t see herself leaving the classroom for the sabbatical.

“I think most of us were even nervous having to leave the kids with a substitute teacher just for the ceremony,” she said.

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