SHELBYVILLE, Ky. — A Kentucky science teacher is being considered for a national award for excellence in education.
“To me, it’s kind of like saying you’re one of the top three science teachers in the state, and right now that’s what it means to me,” explains Denise McElroy, a 6th-grade science teacher at East Middle School.
McElroy’s path to the classroom is somewhat unusual.
“I went to college and got a degree in pre-med, went all the way through and got the degree and worked at a doctor's office my whole first four years of college, and realized that wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted to live,” said McElroy.
She was a scientist for four years at the University of Kentucky before changing directions. The mother of three says she found her purpose in life for teaching.
“I tell my family that God didn’t give your momma very many gifts because I’m not a great cook, and I definitely can’t sing or act like my kids can, but I can teach middle schoolers,” said McElroy.
The 13-year-veteran educator says she’s humbled to be chosen as one of three finalists out of all the educators for the 2020 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
“Any recognition that a teacher can get during this time just to remind that teacher that they do make a difference even when we have to do it a different way and that way is way harder it’s still worth it," she said.
It hasn’t been easy. She and her students faced challenges during the pandemic.
“As a teacher, I have felt like since March this has been a dark time in education for me personally. Some teachers have excelled. It’s really hard to teach science on a computer from my kitchen or an empty classroom,” explained McElroy.
As for her lesson plans, McElroy has had to switch back and forth to virtual learning.
“All the extra steps that we have to go through right now because of the pandemic it makes it 100% worth it and I would do 100 more steps and I do it all over again if I had to,” said McElroy.
She is keeping a positive mentality and is focused on what is in front of her.
“Just made me step back and be like, 'okay, I’ve got to remember who I was before this pandemic started and I can be that teacher again.' We just have to patient and try to do our best with what we’ve got,'” added McElroy.
Spectrum News 1 asked some of McElroy's students about her.
Adriel Martinez a 6th-grade student said, “ She has helped me by completing missing assignments I had or things that I get stuck on at home because my mom is working."
“We know that we can always go to her and like talk to her if we’re struggling with anything and she will care and like listen and help us,” said Camryn Yates.
One parent says her dynamic style has influenced her two children.
“It’s really a testament to their profession and to their commitment to their profession and their passion and teachers like Mrs. Mac. She just goes above and beyond,” said parent Keri Cinotto.
For now, the veteran educator offers this advice for those launching into a career of teaching.
“You have to love the kids first and if you love them first all the content will follow. All you have to do is love the kids. The years in the classroom will teach you, the methods will teach you, the content,” explained McElroy.
McElroy’s portfolio has been forwarded to a national committee in Washington that determines the Presidential awardee. The winner will be announced during the summer of 2021.