Freedom's Wathen finds calling in teaching children

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By The Staff

FRANKFORT - Several years ago, then-finance director Keith Davis was visiting some classrooms at Freedom Elementary School.


He remembered spending just a few minutes observing the science class of Lisa Michelle Wathen and being so impressed.

Davis, who is now superintendent of the Bullitt County Public School District, wrote Wathen a thank you note.

“She was electric,” said Davis. “I knew she was a gifted teacher.”

Little did he know that the teacher he observed would be selected as the state’s top elementary instructor a few years later.

In a ceremony Wednesday in Frankfort, Wathen was selected as the Kentucky Elementary School Teacher of the Year.

This is the second year in a row that Bullitt County teachers have brought home the prestigious award.

“It’s kind of overwhelming,” Wathen said shortly after being honored.

Going into the morning event in the state capitol rotunda, Wathen knew she was one of three finalists for the top honor. But she really didn’t think it would be her named called by Dr. Jon Draud, commissioner of education.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Wathen. “To be recognized by your peers is fantastic.”

Since being selected for a classroom visit by the assessment team in September, Wathen admitted to being very nervous. When she recently learned she was one of three finalists for the elementary honor and one of nine for the overall state recognition, the nerves got worse.

Thinking about the possibility, Wathen admitted she wasn’t sure she could walk to the stage if her name was announced. Luckily, as Draud read the lengthy credentials of the winner, Wathen had time to compose herself and make sure her shaky legs were steady.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Wathen. “It is such an honor. With the governor being here and the entire setting, it was unbelievable.”

Wathen didn’t plan on being a teacher. Her degree is in civil engineering.

Fortunately for the students at Freedom, Wathen decided teaching was her true calling.

“I never regret the decision at all,” said Wathen. “I love what I do. It’s challenging. I love children.”

No matter how stressful the day, Wathen said there is always something that causes her to smile and realize that is the reason she went into teaching.

Throughout the process, Wathen said the staff at Freedom has been amazing. The morning of the ceremony, she got calls and text messages from them wishing her luck.

“I was surprised to be selected the Freedom teacher of the year,” said Wathen. “The staff is amazing. We have so many excellent teachers.”

Knowing the caliber of the staff and her own personality, Wathen said she pushes herself and her students to excel every day.

“You look around at the other teachers and realize how amazing they are, it makes you want to be better,” said Wathen, who has only been teaching the past five years. After starting in science, she now teaches a third/fourth grade split class.

“This (award) is so huge for the entire school,” said Wathen. “And it is huge for the school district.”

She said people outside the district might not realize the many innovative programs being undertaken by the school system.

“People don’t realize Bullitt County is an up and coming district,” said Wathen. “To have the district win this award two straight years is a great honor.”

When Tammy Spratt won the honor last year representing Shepherdsville Elementary, Wathen said others took notice. She said it caused her pride to have a Bullitt County teacher to win the state award.

She hopes her recognition will inspire others in the district.

Michelle Sharp, assistant principal at Freedom Elementary, was quickly calling the school to let the teachers, who were in professional development, know of the feat.

“I know they are very excited,” said Sharp, who accompanied Wathen to the ceremony.

Sharp was on a committee that interviewed Wathen for her first teaching job at Freedom.

“To give up a career in engineering for teaching says a lot about her,” said Sharp. “She is an incredible teacher.”

Wathen’s use of technology is amazing, said Sharp.

“Her students are always learning and there is no wasted time in her classroom,” said Sharp. “This says a lot about the staff at Freedom and a lot about Bullitt County. It shows the district is making wise choices on how is hired.”

The excitement and anticipation at Freedom has been high for the past couple of months, according to Sharp.

“Everyone is so excited,” said Sharp. “Everyone at Freedom works as a team.”

For Davis, having the state’s top elementary teacher for a second straight year may have been a surprise but it was not shocking.

“It’s reflective of the quality of our teaching staff at Freedom and throughout the district,” said Davis. “It is extremely exciting.”

Reflecting back on the brief classroom visit, Davis could tell that Wathen was an excellent teacher.

“Her destiny is to be a teacher,” said Davis. “We are excited she is part of our school system.”

Davis said the consecutive winners should make others take notice of the good things happening in Bullitt County.

But, in reality, he said it is an individual award and it is something Wathen truly worked hard to achieve.

“She deserves the credit,” said Davis. “But the entire district will share in the spotlight.”

Over 40,000 teachers are in Kentucky classrooms, according to Draud. The 24 teachers honored by Ashland Oil and the Department of Education were presented with plaques.

For Wathen, she received a special ceramic award and a $3,000 check.