“Failure is not an option in my classes,” said Sally Robinson, one of three finalists for Kentucky High School Teacher of the Year.

The students to whom Robinson has taught history and government at Berea Community School since 1978 have done much more than avoid failure.

Among her former students are doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers and members of the United States diplomatic corps.

Those working in the legal field include Madison District Judge Brandy Oliver Brown and Stacee Blackburn, who works for the U.S. military’s judge-advocate general’s corps.

Two other former students, Amy Hillie and Jennifer Prather, work for U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, D-Sixth District.

Another former student, Ben Robinson III, serves on the Berea Independent School Board.

“I was one of the lucky kids at Berea Community School,” Brown said. “I had Mrs. Robinson one year in middle school and then another two years in high school.

“I was never bored in her class,” the judge said. “I know this is a cliché, but Mrs. Robinson truly makes history come alive for her students.”

Brown was pleased this year to learn that her son is now one of Robinson’s students.

“I overheard him talking to a friend about an upcoming class project,” Brown said. “‘That’s going to be fun,’ he told his friend.’”

When the judge asked who the teacher was, and learned it was Robinson, “Then I understood why he was looking forward to his school work.”

Brown got to work with Robinson when they served as coaches for the BCS mock trial team.

“Mrs. Robinson coached Berea Community’s first-ever mock trial team and it qualified for the state tournament,” Brown said. “That’s pretty much unheard of.”

Robinson said, “I love teaching students about government, because government affects the day-to-day lives and they need to know how it works.”

The thrill of seeing a student’s face light up when he or she grasps a concept and recognizes its importance has not dulled for her, Robinson said, even after 37 years in the classroom.

She graduated from Berea College in 1972, then taught five years in Pennington Gap, Va., before returning to Berea.

“When an opportunity arose for me to teach at Berea Community School, I jumped at the chance,” she said.

“I did my student teaching at BCS with the late Flora Allen,” Robinson said, “and Berea was where I wanted to teach and raise my children.”

“I will continue to teach as long as I still to enjoy it,” said Robinson, who could have several years ago.

Robinson said she follows a “relationship style” of teaching, engaging students individually to discover their learning style.

“I want to give each student the opportunity in his her own style,” she said.

A student also get to learn at his or her own pace in her classes, Robinson said.

One of her strategies for doing that is grouping students in teams of three or four to work on class projects.

“I work to keep the students who are advanced just as engaged as those how are average or how are struggling,” Robinson said.

She also takes a personal interest in her students, even after they leave her classes.

As she sat for an interview Monday, Robinson called out to students who passed by.

She inquired about one student’s dental appointment as he checked in at the principal’s office.

“He left my class to go to the dentist,” Robinson said.

She congratulated another as the walked by on being selected for the school’s homecoming court.

“I expect great things of that young man,” Robinson said, “and he knows that I do.”

Photos in Robinson’s classroom show her with students in Washington, D.C., and New York City.

“I took students to the Obama inauguration and George W. Bush’s second inauguration,” she said. “I think its important for students to see how the concepts they learn in the classroom are applied in the real world. Attending a presidential inauguration allows them to witness first-hand, a peaceful transfer of government power.”

This spring she will be taking another student group to visit Italy and Greece.

“When I think of all the wonderful teachers here in Berea and in schools across the state, I am humbled to be considered for teacher of the year,” said Robinson, who chairs the BCS social studies department.

Robinson is among three high school teachers who are finalists for the award. They were chosen based on their scores from the first round of judging, which was conducted by a blue-ribbon panel of veteran educators.

Classroom visits and personal interviews with each of the nine semifinalists will result in the selection of the 2010 Elementary School, Middle School and High School Teachers of the Year. A culmination of these scores results in the selection of the 2010 Kentucky Teacher of the Year. This individual then will represent Kentucky in the 2010 National Teacher of the Year competition.

The award will be presented Oct. 23 in Louisville.

(Editor’s Note: Bill Robinson, Sally Robinson and Ben Robinson III are all unrelated.)

Bill Robinson can be reached at brobinson@richmondregister.com or at 624-6622.

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