By Jeff Noble / Staff writer
High on the wall above the windows of Kristal Doolin’s classroom at Corbin Middle School is a quote from legendary animator and film producer Walt Disney.
“Change is inevitable, but growth is optional.”
The 7th Grade Language Arts teacher uses that quote, and others, as a tool to motivate and inspire her students to take stock where they are at their age, then reach for the stars.
“It gets them to think beyond what they’re thinking. I want them to shoot for the moon,” said Doolin during an interview in her class Friday.
Armed with an arsenal of current and classic books, and fortified with technology from the Corbin Independent School’s “Bring Your Own Device” policy this school year, Doolin brings to the classroom a key element which makes her go the extra mile — the human element.
“I bring a sense of responsibility, because I want them to do well. There’s a big sense of pride in me when that happens. It fills my heart, and it’s also fun. I love teaching middle school.”
The Kentucky Education Association and Ashland, Inc. thought so, too.
Which is why they selected Doolin and 23 other teachers statewide as winners of the 2013 Ashland, Inc. Teacher Achievement Awards. She’ll be honored Oct. 17 at a ceremony in Frankfort at the State Capitol Building. Doolin also qualifies for the 2013 Kentucky Middle School Teacher of the Year Award, and if she wins that, she’ll be a finalist for Kentucky Teacher of the Year.
It’ll be a memorable trip for Doolin, no matter what.
“I got the letter from the KDE and Ashland, Inc. last week. Someone nominated me for the award, and the letter said that I won. I was happy, but humbled. I did not expect it,” she pointed out.
Growing up, Doolin was inspired to reach a little bit higher. It was a character trait that continues to this day. That inspiration came from people she looked up to, like her parents. And from the written pages.
“I’ve always loved books, and loved to read and write. That’s a natural thing for me. I want to pass that along to my students. I want them to love it. I’m passionate about teaching, and about my students. I want to find out what they’re into, so if there’s a book they love to read, I want to get it for them. I want them to read it, and I like to talk to them about the book. Because once they know you’re interested in them, that’s half the battle,” said Doolin, a Knox County native who is now in her 14th year as a teacher.
She keeps them interested through a book club she started for 7th and 8th Grade girls. Called “Redhound Readergirlz,” the book club has 30 girls this school year. On the wall of her classroom is a club display, lined with pictures of last year’s club and priceless memories of notes and quotes.
As another class began, students pulled out their smartphones, laptops, Kindles and iPods. They use the class digital site Edmodo, a social learning network for students, teachers and parents which is like the social media site Facebook, but enables students to check assignments, check their grades and write posts to classmates. Quizlet, an online learning tool, is used for practicing vocabulary. Doolin added the Accelerated Reader site is also an essential part of her classroom.
“The Accelerated Reader allows students to read books of their own choosing, and they can test over it. We also use a Promethean board, so you can put up what you want them to see. We have a class blog, and I’m in the process of connecting my students with a class from Malaysia. On Tuesday, we’re going to introduce our class, our school, and our community to them. I like to give my students as many tools as possible, but I don’t want to overwhelm them, so I introduce all those technological tools a little at a time. Technology is powerful,” she noted.
And that’s where Doolin ties all those elements together. Those who work with her — and have been taught by her — say she sets the standards for students to rise above the average. She brings passion for learning and a burning desire to open students’ minds. And she listens to them in return.
“She’s probably been the most influential teacher I’ve had. If you don’t understand anything, she’ll explain it until it gets into your head. She loves kids, she’s really good a what what she does, and it shows a lot,” said Seth Botner, a Corbin High senior who is a peer tutor for Doolin’s class, and one of her former students at Corbin Middle.
Doolin loves inspirational quotes, such as the Walt Disney one in her room. One of her favorites is this one, from Principal Helen Jacobs (played by Olympia Dukakis) in the movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus:”
“A teacher has two jobs; fill young minds young minds with knowledge, yes, but more important, give those minds a compass so that that knowledge doesn’t go to waste.”
“I do have high expectations, because I believe as humans, we’ll do as expected. Or at least try really hard. But they’re still very young. Which is why I let them know I love them. And I want them to succeed,” she said, as the class came to an end.