County educator up for Tennessee's Teacher of the Year

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff

Each year the state of Tennessee awards a Teacher of the Year to acknowledge those who go above and beyond what the classroom demands of them. This year, one of Carter County's tenured teachers could receive the state title. Cloudland High School's Kenny Lou Heaton will travel to Nashville on May 9 to be interviewed for Tennessee's Teacher of the Year.
   Heaton was one of three teachers in the Carter County School System to receive a Teacher of the Year Award, and she learned this week that she received the District One title as well. Heaton was chosen over teachers from five counties to represent the region in Nashville, and is one of only 18 educators that are up for the state award. "I feel kind of embarrassed to receive this award because I don't feel like I do anything above and beyond what other teachers are doing," Heaton said.
   As part of the application process for the state award, Heaton must write essays on some of the major concerns that face education today, and propose solutions for the problems. She also must assert her beliefs on teacher accountability in the essay. After she appears before a panel of judges in Nashville, Heaton will have to wait until October before the winner is announced.
   During her 18 years as a Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) teacher at Cloudland High School, Heaton has seen the program changed and molded with society's demands. The name of the vocational class was changed from Home Economics four years ago, and the class subject matter changed along with it. Heaton taught one generation of students sewing and now teaches their children interpersonal communication skills.
   The requirements for vocational curriculums have become highly regulated over the years. The FACS department has to fulfill a competency check list that shows student mastery, and it has to have an active student organization in order to keep its federal funding. The state uses the labor market statistics to validate the program's existence and Heaton must track students for five years after they graduate from her curriculum. "Vocational classes are no longer easy dumping grounds for students," Heaton said. "The block schedule has given us extra time so that students may take these vocational courses that teach them life skills."
   Life skills are precisely what Heaton equips her students with. Her students learn family and parenting skills and are educated in child development. The courses can be transferred to Mayland Community College for credit.
   Heaton has been responsible for a number of grants for the FACS department at Cloudland. By writing letters and asking for help, Heaton has received donations and support from the community. Thomasville Furniture donated $15,000 worth of cabinets for the classroom, and Harris-Tarkett Inc. gave hardwood flooring for the room. Wal-Mart also contributed window blinds.
   Heaton, her husband and their son worked together to remodel her classroom. "It meant that we had to work during Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, on the weekends and at night to make sure things were put together correctly," Heaton said.
   Service learning is another program which Heaton has been successful in implementing. In the program students are placed at work stations in the area to receive hands-on application of the skills they learn in the classroom. Students work at the Cloudland Elementary School and at Roan Highlands Nursing Home. "I try to tell the students that the hard work and perseverance they learn at these places will apply no matter where they go," Heaton said.
   With all of the hard work Heaton has put in over the years she still is humbled by her recent recognition. "It is nice to be recognized for my efforts," Heaton said. "We owe these kids a great deal. I have been around long enough to see the children of the students I taught and most of them stay right here, so we owe it to ourselves to do what we can to keep our community strong."