While Centre College is known as a standout educational institution in Kentucky, its contribution to improving education does not end with its four-year commitment to each of its students. Proof of Centre’s dedication to outstanding education is in the overwhelming number of Centre graduates who participate in Teach Kentucky (TKY), an innovative program designed to recruit and retain quality teachers for the Commonwealth.
TKY is not affiliated with the Teach For America program; it was founded by Rowan Claypool as a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “recruit and attract highly-motivated young people to teach in our public schools, thus improving the quality of education for our students and enhancing our civic life by retaining these young teachers in greater Louisville, Ky.”
TKY accomplishes this mission by helping teachers get certified and complete a master’s degree in the art of teaching (commonly known as MAT). Centre alumni who join TKY are in good company; young teachers hail from Amherst, Boston College, Columbia, DePauw, Yale, Harvard, Middlebury and Washington and Lee, to name a few.
One such young teacher from Centre is Natalie Postel ’04, who says she was immediately interested in and excited about the opportunity TKY presented her.
“What attracted me to TKY was the opportunity to give back to students what a teacher gave to me,” she explains. “My second grade teacher, Mrs. Williams, was incredibly supportive and helpful to me during a difficult year of my life; I’m pretty convinced that had it not been for her guiding me when I needed guidance most, I would never have ended up at Centre.
“After meeting with TKY founder Rowan Claypool,” she continues, “I couldn’t stop thinking about Mrs. Williams and how much of an impact my year in her classroom made on my life; I saw TKY as an opportunity to give to other kids what I got from Mrs. Williams.”
With TKY, Postel taught at Louisville’s Thomas Jefferson Middle School, one of the most demanding schools in the state, for six years before transferring to Fayette County, Ky., where she taught at Tates Creek Middle School and the Carter G. Woodson Academy. She is currently in the process of relocating to Louisville and hopes to remain closely involved with TKY, now as a mentor for teachers new to the program.
Postel’s experiences at Centre, which deeply influenced her as a student, continue to inspire her as a teacher.
“My Centre education has been an invaluable part of my success as a teacher,” she explains. “I had the best professors, who modeled for me what it means to truly be a teacher, rather than a person regurgitating information from a textbook and expecting others to memorize or make sense of it and regurgitate it back.”
Another one of the 14 Centre alumni who have been involved in the program is Matthew Howell ’09, who came across TKY as a senior at Centre, when Claypool gave a presentation for Career Services.
“I was one of three people in attendance, drawn by the smell of free pizza,” he jokes. “In the midst of the traditional existential angst that comes with senior year, Teach Kentucky held the promise of not only a job but a purpose.”
Indeed, after graduation, Howell taught in Louisville’s Olmsted Academy North, an innovative public school for impoverished, at-risk young men, where he taught science and math. He also served on the school’s governing body and managed the discipline of 7th graders.
Four years later, he finds himself at West End School, a private boarding school for middle school boys, where he teaches math and science and serves as Dean of Students.
“My favorite part of this program has been watching the intelligent and passionate recruits of TKY find unique ways to overcome the challenges of teaching,” he says. “Everyone reaches a breaking point in their first year on the job (at least in under-performing public schools, where TKY recruits are typically placed), but seeing how a young adult can go from beaten and depressed to inspired and dedicated helps to remind me of the power of hope and the ability of humankind to adapt in the face of adversity.”
Howell also credits his Centre education as a major reason he is drawn to and passionate about teaching.
“You can’t be a good teacher unless you love learning, and Centre indulges that love and nurtures it,” he explains. “There are things that I learned in my four years that have no practical value, but the act of learning those things turned out to be the invaluable part; what I share with my students isn’t knowledge but the ability to gain knowledge.”
In fact, Howell argues that the unique experience Centre students receive while in college serves them well in the education field after graduating.
“There seems to be something about the ‘Centre bubble’ that motivates graduates to affect change in the world upon leaving,” he says. “Four years of taking a step back to critically analyze life and the world gives Centre students understanding, but in taking that step forward upon graduation, we’re suddenly greeted with the perspective that the opportunities we took for granted in the ‘bubble’ aren’t universal.
“Combine that perspective with a desire to share our blessings of knowledge, and you have a teacher,” he adds.
And while many Centre graduates go on to careers in education after graduation, Howell is especially passionate about TKY because of its commitment to long-term education careers.
“TKY isn’t trying to fill a seat in a school for a couple of years,” he says. “Teachers need support and time to hone their skills and then use those skills to prepare their students. TKY connects new recruits with mentors, practical tips and resources to cultivate quality teachers who value the profession, versus giving new graduates a crash-course to survive in the classroom until they scoot off to law school.
“It’s this long-term growth mindset that separates TKY and makes it so valuable here in the Commonwealth,” he adds.
Claypool welcomes the high number of Centre graduates involved in TKY because of the rigorous, top-notch education the College delivers.
“The combination of deep content knowledge and appreciation of the liberal arts makes Centre graduates outstanding teachers,” he says.
To learn more about Teach Kentucky, read their Fact Card or visit their website.
Rowan Claypool, in addition to founding TKY, is a consultant on the Brown Fellows Program at Centre, sponsored by the James Graham Brown Foundation.
Centre Alumni and TKY Participants
Mayra Angel ’09
Kathryn Ford ’10
Josh Frederick ’06
Alison Furlong (Fischer) ’03
Aubrey Holle ’12
Matt Howell ’09
Seth Hunter ’04
Nate Jebsen ’03
Lindsay Stoess Jennings ’04
Katie Moore ’10
Krista Nelson ’04
Luke Neubauer ’08
Natalie Postel ’04
Aaron Smith ’03
Raeann Stengel ’13