A picture of five high school students, wearing face masks, sitting behind a long conference room table and having a discussion.

At its Jan. 25 meeting in Frankfort, members of the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council discussed teacher recruitment and retention. Many of the council members said they felt teachers don’t get the recognition they deserve for how hard their job has been over the past few years.
Photo by Danielle Harris, Jan. 25, 2022

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE’s) Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council had the opportunity to discuss teacher recruitment and retention and the rights of students in schools during its Jan. 25 meeting.

Byron Darnall, KDE associate commissioner in the Office of Educator Licensure and Effectiveness, talked with students about the struggles the teaching profession has faced during the past few years. Darnall explained that his biggest challenge is being asked how to solve the teacher shortage. He said he doesn’t have a satisfactory answer, but knows students feel the effects of the shortage every day.

Darnall asked the students how many of them had thought about pursuing a career in teaching. Trevin Bevins, a senior at Shelby Valley High School (Pike County), said he comes from a family of teachers.

“Honestly, teachers don’t get the respect they deserve, and they don’t get paid enough for what they do. Without teachers there are no other professions,” Bevins said.

Dejah Armstrong, a senior at Central High School (Jefferson County), is looking to pursue a career teaching English, but said the profession lacks diversity.

Darnall said KDE wants to support and champion anyone who is interested in pursuing education, especially teaching, because the teacher shortage continues to be of high concern. He said there is nothing better than being able to connect with students in the classroom.

“I know you all are building opportunities for yourselves; you’re creating resumes. But you are all here because something matters more to you than just going to school,” said Darnall. “I just challenge you to harness that into something that is going to get us past the current state of affairs in this world.”

While many of the students said better pay and more respect would make the teaching profession more attractive, Jack Johnson, a junior at Marshall County High School, said it is also important to reaffirm that teaching is not always going to be about material satisfaction, but how you can make an impact.

Students said the opportunity to have their higher education paid for would make a teaching career much more appealing, because many teachers struggle with student debt.

Darnall implored students to leave teachers and other school employees notes, thanking them for what they do.

“In terms of making an impact within your buildings, go to a teacher tomorrow and just leave a note on their desk and say, ‘You know what? Thanks for what you’re doing.’ It’s something easy you can do to make a difference in your school. Get your friends to join and see the ripple effect,” he said.

Social and Emotional Well-Being

KDE Deputy Commissioner and Chief Equity Officer Thomas Woods-Tucker and Damien Sweeney, director of diversity, equity and inclusion, opened the floor to students to discuss how KDE can improve the social-emotional well-being of educators and students.

Logan Justice, a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School (Fayette County), said it’s important to support teachers during this polarizing time, appreciate the work they do and respect the profession more.

“It has been really hard for teachers to keep up with everything. Most of them work after the school day is over,” added Dyllan Tipton, a senior at Spencer County High School. “A lot of people don’t realize how much work they have put in. We should recognize that much more than we do.”

Many students expressed thanks to educators for the work they do every day, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students also said they can sense when teachers, counselors and other school personnel feel drained and know that they aren’t getting the breaks they need due to staffing shortages.

Bentley White, a sophomore at the Kentucky School for the Deaf, said teachers know what changes need to be made and deserve the opportunity to voice those thoughts.

Students Rights in Schools

Willie Edward Taylor Carver Jr., the 2022 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, facilitated an activity to educate students on their rights in school, including free speech. He presented various case studies that show how the U.S. Supreme Court has shaped the rights of students.

He said with recent talks about the legislative session in past meetings, he wants students to understand their rights from a judicial perspective.

“I think it’s important for students to be aware of their rights in school,” he said.

He also told students about a book titled “We the Students,” which discusses where students’ rights begin and end.

KBE Ex-Officio Student Member

Meredith Brewer, Director of Education Policy, discussed the upcoming selection process for the KBE’s next non-voting student member.

Solyana Mesfin, a senior at Eastern High School (Jefferson County), was selected in 2020 to be the board’s first student member. Her term expires in Spring of this year.

The recently approved regulation, which is on track to become effective March 1 this year, requires that students be selected from each congressional district in numerical order. Since Mesfin is from Kentucky’s 3rd Congressional District, the next student member will be a rising junior selected from the 4th Congressional District. Students also must be enrolled in a public high school.

Once applications are submitted by the April 1 deadline, seven members of the Commissioner’s Student Advisory Council will review applications for the position and select three applicants to recommend to KBE.

The application process will be publicly advertised to Kentucky public school teachers and superintendents for further dissemination to students.