LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There’s a program in Kentucky that recruits highly motivated, ambitious college graduates from across the nation to teach in classrooms right here in the Commonwealth. It’s called Teach Kentucky.
Jessica Florey is in her third year of teaching. During school time, she teaches 7th grade social studies at Olmsted Academy North in Louisville.
“I have some great students, first off. Especially this home-room group is phenomenal. I have great students across the board,” Florey said.
Florey started teaching in 2020, after moving to the Commonwealth to take part in the Teach Kentucky program. It is an opportunity that she said changed her life.
“Teaching is not for the faint or for the weary at all, but probably one of the best things. Just getting to work with the students is so sweet. Getting to watch them grow and even watch yourself grow in the ways that you’ve improved is always encouraging,” Florey said.
Rowan Claypool founded Teach Kentucky in 2002.
He said the Louisville-based nonprofit aims to bring as many teachers into the community as possible.
“What we’re trying to do is get someone who is not yet certified, entice them to come and start their public school teaching career in our community and then stay on long term. It’s converting someone who is not yet qualified to be a teacher, and helping them get qualified, do that in our community and then stick long-term in our public school system," Claypool said.
This year, Teach Kentucky brought in 34 new teachers. They've recruited 423 teachers from across the country in 21 years, and 80% are still teaching somewhere. In fact, 235 program vets teach in Kentucky. Claypool said 175 teach inside Jefferson County Public Schools. It’s an intense two-year commitment where participants earn a master’s degree in teaching, while getting a full-time salary in the classroom.
A program benefit is that they become AmeriCorps members. Claypool said it provides two-thirds of tuition for their master’s degree. Plus, there’s mentoring and support from veteran teachers and more.
“In the summer, they have a seven-week Teach Kentucky institute. This is entirely focused on the download of wisdom from our veteran teachers to our rookie teachers. These are the non-documented, not-in-the-textbook skills, tactics and knowledge that will help a young teacher be more effective right at the very beginning of their career.” Claypool explained.
Claypool said the work they've done through the years matters, especially now, as the Commonwealth and nation deal with a teacher shortage.
“We went from a problem to a crisis. The other thing to keep in mind is it really takes a great deal to get someone qualified so that they’re certified to teach in a public school system. So, that’s one of the things we do, is we’re helping facilitate that process for a young person. It’s not done overnight. It takes two years in our scenario,” Claypool said.
In the classroom, Teach Kentucky was worth it for 8th grade English as a second language teacher, Richard Feil. He learned something he passes on to his roughly 50 students at Olmsted Academy North in Louisville.
“When I got to Teach Kentucky, I thought everything was going to be perfect, and it wasn’t the case. I had to be patient with myself in order to learn how to be a teacher. As an English as a second language teacher, my students need to be patient. They’re not in a school where everyone speaks their language," said Feil.
The program changed his life, too, he said.
“There’s no other program that prepares you as much for being a first-year teacher as Teach Kentucky. I learned how to make lesson plans the summer before. I learned how to communicate with teachers because as an ESL teacher, I’m working with math, science, social studies, English, related arts. So how do I create a reputation at school so I’m able to work with other teachers,” Feil explained.
Claypool said they’re in a contractual agreement with JCPS, where JCPS invests money, resources and cooperation in the Teach Kentucky pipeline. Claypool said that benefits candidates today.
Teach Kentucky said 12,000 local students are being served by their teachers every day. To learn more about the program or to apply, click here.