Milken Award winner: 'We must defend public education'

In February, Ballyshannon Middle School history teacher Kevin Dailey was awarded a prestigious Milken Educator Award at a surprise assembly at the school. The award, which comes with a $25,000 cash prize, is designed to reward early- and mid-career teachers who make a profound difference for their students, colleagues and communities. With the new school year under way, NKY Thrives asked Dailey to share his thoughts on public education. Here's what he wrote: 
 

I was never supposed to be a teacher. As a child, I had hopes of being an architect - a professional who would take an idea and forge it into something that would last forever. I wanted to use my passion for creativity and imagination to bring the abstract into reality and make the world a more beautiful place for everyone to experience.

This desire to shape the world around me led to a career in architectural design, but despite fulfilling my childhood dream, something was missing. I realized my dream to make a positive impact on my community would not come from my own efforts, but through my ability to help others. As it turns out, I was born to be a teacher.

As a public school teacher, I have served in both high school and middle school social studies roles from grades eight through twelve. Currently, I serve as a U.S. History teacher at Ballyshannon Middle School, where I help students examine the complex history of our nation. Combining inquiry-based instruction and authentic academic opportunities, my goal is to ignite in my students a passion for learning that goes beyond the classroom.

At my core, I love public schools. There are no greater institutions for the perpetuation of democracy, nor for the advancement and growth of an individual, than public education. A public school is a place of opportunity for people from all backgrounds; it’s a place where scientists and tradesmen learn how to build a better world; it’s where writers and poets fall in love with language and storytelling; it’s a place where no matter their circumstance, a child can feel safe and supported.

I certainly would not be where I am today without the knowledge, support, compassion, and opportunities afforded to me by my own public school experience.

As a proud graduate of Holmes High School, I have taken up the mantle that was so humbly and expertly provided to me and worked to ensure that every single child who walks into my building receives a world-class education and feels safe, happy, and loved. Regardless of their individual circumstances, I believe that every child deserves to write their own story and share it with the world. It is an immense privilege and responsibility to be able to engage in this work to help young people build the lives they want to live, something that would not be possible without choosing to be a teacher.

Research proves that there is no greater impact on student achievement than a qualified teacher, but as we know too well, external factors are pushing teachers and prospective teachers out of the classroom. If left unchecked, these debilitating assaults on public education will leave our students bereft of their greatest champions.

Great teachers are not just warm bodies occupying a vocation. They are passionate professionals who are not only skilled in their academic disciplines, but also experts at building and nurturing relationships, fostering creativity and curiosity, and showing compassion and empathy for the communities they serve.

The collective experience and expertise of these professional educators are being deliberately overridden by laws intended to deny, obfuscate, and misconstrue literature, science, and history. Without re-establishing the trust between our schools and our communities, these wonderful institutions of democracy and creativity will cease to exist.

My message is simple: we must defend public education by supporting our teachers. The future of our children and our Commonwealth quite literally depend on it.