By LYNSIE DICKERSON
Gold Standard Staff Writer
Jessica McKelvey’s love of teaching has taken her across the world and across the county, and has now landed her the title of U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity Kentucky District Teacher of the Year.
A third-grade teacher at Pierce Elementary, McKelvey was awarded the title at the Feb. 19 Fort Knox Community Schools Board of Education meeting. McKelvey has been a teacher for seven years, with four of those years spent working for the Department of Defense.
McKelvey was born and raised in California. Growing up in San Diego she met many students who spoke English as a second language, she said. This sparked her interest in becoming a teacher to non-native English speakers.
McKelvey earned a liberal studies degree with an emphasis in literacy and language studies from California State University, Long Beach, with the intent of becoming an elementary school teacher.
“I knew before I went into the teaching profession, there was something else I wanted to do,” McKelvey said. “I wanted to travel, I wanted to experience other cultures, I wanted to just immerse myself in a whole new environment and challenge myself, so I went into the Peace Corps.”
She moved to the Republic of Moldova in Eastern Europe, where she taught English as a second language for a little more than two years. In an area where residents were more concerned with survival than education, McKelvey said she had to find ways to make the students see that education was important.
“I noticed that I had to take a lot of my teaching outside of the classroom, especially during harvest times,” McKelvey said. She recounted a time when she taught students new words and phrases like “picking grapes” as they were harvesting grapes with the community—a real-life application of the language.
Following her time in the Peace Corps, McKelvey and her husband moved to Virginia, where she taught GED courses, taught home-bound students at their houses and worked as a literacy volunteer.
Eventually, the teaching position at Fort Knox became available.
“I had applied for (this job) for years, because it was sort of my dream job,” McKelvey said.
As a child, both of McKelvey’s parents were Marines; while her dad was serving in Operation Desert Storm, McKelvey attended an elementary school on a military base. There she received a great deal of support from other students who could relate to her situation and from teachers who understood that her dad was away.
“I knew when I got older, I wanted to work on a military installation,” McKelvey said. I feel like this is my way of giving back and being a part of the greater good, the greater world.”
McKelvey said she tries to go beyond the textbook and make learning authentic by showing students how their learning will count in the real world.
Her goals for her students include that they always do their best and take pride in their work, as well as become productive citizens who know how to work well with others. She also wants her students to recognize that they can make a positive difference in the world.
“I think a lot of the goals that I have are more social and part of the greater good, because once you…can respect other people, (and) you respect yourself, (and) you take pride in what you do, I think then you can actually start learning something,” she said.
Teachers should care about the students they’re working with, McKelvey said, as well as be respectful of the students’ needs and home environments, be responsible and prepared for class, be committed to their job, and be honest with students and parents about how the students are doing in class. Teachers should also love what they do, she said.
“I like teaching because every day is a whole new learning experience,” McKelvey said. “It’s a tough profession, and if you don’t absolutely have your heart 100 percent into it, I feel like you’d be doing a disservice to the kids.
McKelvey said she’s always loved teaching and it’s a part of who she is.
“I think it’s a lifestyle, I don’t think it’s just a job.”
Teacher of the Year, McKelvey said, “It’s all been an exciting journey. I feel that this is just beginning.”