UNION, Ky. — In northern Kentucky, state education leaders gave the surprise of a lifetime to one outstanding middle school teacher. The goals were to recognize the importance of hard working educators and inspire students to consider a career in teaching themselves.

It seemed to be an otherwise average day for social studies teacher Kevin Dailey. But he, his fellow teachers and the students at Ballyshannon Middle School in Union had no idea what was coming.

What You Need To Know

  • The Milken Educator Award was presented at Ballyshannon Middle School to honor one outstanding teacher

  • Kevin Dailey said he was shocked to receive the award, which includes a $25,000 check

  • Dailey received the award for instilling the importance of being a good citizen in his students

  • The award aims to inspire students to take on the challenge of teaching

It was pretty clear, however, from the fact that Milken Educator Awards Vice President Stephanie Bishop, Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman and Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Jason E. Glass were in their gym, that something big was going to happen.

Bishop had students line up, each holding a number, to show the amount for the Milken Educator Award she was about to present.

“So Luke, how much are we talking now?” she asked.

“That is $2,500,” Luke responded.

“Didn’t I say that this is one of the greatest teachers in the nation?” Bishop replied.

“I think you did say that.”

“Commissioner Glass, could you find us one more zero?” That drew applause from the entire gym.

$25,000 to spend on whatever they want was to be awarded to an outstanding teacher who can’t apply for the award, but is recognized for the impact they have on students.

“The Milken Educator Award goes to Kevin Dailey,” Bishop announced.

The crowd went wild. Dailey sat shocked, before finally walking laboriously with a knee brace to receive his giant check.

For a guy with a torn patellar tendon, the surprise put a little extra pep in his step.

“My knees are weak. That’s funny, that’s a joke,” he said to the crowd. “I think there are countless teachers that are more deserving of this than I am, but I really don’t have words.”

He also gave a shout out to one of his former teachers at Holmes High School in Covington, Linda Fox.

“She’s the reason I’m a teacher. In the 10th grade I was ready to give up on a lot of things, and she taught me not to,” he said. 

Dailey, who’s been a teacher for 10 years, the last three at Ballyshannon, earned the award for his tireless pursuit of supporting students, giving back to the community and instilling the importance of being a good citizen. That includes things like helping students build a free library outside of school.

“‘Don’t cry’ is the first thing that went through my mind, and just shock,” he said. “Teachers don’t really get recognized for a whole lot of things. If anything I think the profession of teaching gets vilified a lot. We take an enormous burden from our community.”

He said he wasn’t expecting the award, “not even the slightest bit,” instead thinking it was for another teacher.

Bad knee. Life-changing check. One could’ve been convinced those things didn’t even matter, as about 10 minutes after receiving his award, Dailey promptly returned to his classroom to resume a lesson on Congress.

“Mr. Dailey, you’re on the website!” exclaimed one of his students.

One of the big motivations behind presenting these awards is to inspire students to take on the challenge of being a teacher someday, Bishop said.

“We believe that educators have the most important job in our country, because they are entrusted with the responsibility of preparing all of you for a bright future,” she said. “Isn’t it odd that the ones teaching all of the others winning awards haven’t been part of the celebration? We’re here to fix that.”

Even on a day that became anything but average, Dailey said it’s the love of teaching, not the pursuit of recognition that makes influential teachers.

“There’s not all of those external accolades, so it has to be something you’re passionate about,” he said. “It means a lot. And then as far as the students, every day is a challenge, as with every profession, but they’re the reason we all get up and keep coming back despite any of the other challenges.”

As for how he plans to spend the money, Dailey had not yet fully processed the idea.

“Pay off debt. That’s my thought, so yeah, I don’t know,” he said. “Ask my wife and she’ll decide what we do with it.”

By winning the award, Dailey also received an all-expenses-paid trip to an education forum in Los Angeles.

The Milken Educator Awards, created by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987, recognizes teaching excellence publicly not only to inspire educators, but also students and entire communities about joining the teaching profession.

The prestigious honor will be presented this 2021-22 school year at over 60 schools across the nation.