In the classroom with Kentucky’s Teacher of the Year

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By Taylor Riley

 The halls at North Oldham High School are pretty quiet at 2 p.m. on Monday. Students are in their respective classes sitting behind desks and listening to their teachers lecture about the invasion of Normandy, memorizing the Pythagorean theorem or dissecting Edgar Allen Poe.

But in Ashley Lamb-Sinclair’s room in the English department, the students in Creative Writing are teaching the class. Ms. Lamb, as the students call her, stands back and lets her students learn in an unconventional way: by doing.

“I like for students to be in charge of their own learning,” Lamb-Sinclair said. “I don’t mind chaos.”

Some might come into Lamb-Sinclair’s room, personalized by a Bob Dylan poster and a large amount of special notes from students, and say that it is chaotic. Most students aren’t in the classroom at all; they are filming the script they wrote the week before.

Lamb-Sinclair takes a “hands-off” approach in the classroom and her students seem to respond to it. In the creative writing period, she has delegated two student teachers that help their fellow students with the process of turning their screenplays into five-minute short films.

“(Her class) is the best part of my day,” Kelsey Kline, senior student teacher, said. “She sets guidelines but is very flexible. We can expand on our own terms.”

Lamb-Sinclair speaks to her creative writing students not as her inferiors, but as her equals. Each student is excited when she speaks to them and most fight for her attention.

Her unconventional way of teaching was recently praised in a big way. Lamb-Sinclair was recently recognized by the Kentucky Department of Education as 2016 Kentucky Teacher of the Year.

Lamb-Sinclair is on her tenth year of teaching English and creative writing and has been at NOHS for four years. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Kentucky and achieved the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification.

She teaches five classes a day, including two honors English, one regular English, Creative Writing and a class she created herself, Connect. Connect is in its second year and Lamb-Sinclair describes it as a thematic-based class for re-engaging students who may have lost the want to learn.

She has been in three districts and now calls North home, where she seems to never want to leave.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 22,” Lamb-Sinclair said about teaching. “There’s nothing else. It’s where I’ve always wanted to be.”

Even her co-workers hold Lamb-Sinclair in the highest regard. Taylor Norton, art teacher at North, calls Ashley not only a fellow teacher, but also a friend.

“It’s so exciting to celebrate her,” Norton said. “To have them (KDE) see what I’ve been seeing all along.”

Norton noted the English teacher’s “going against the grain” approach to teaching as the defining factor of receiving the award.

“It’s an accumulation of her whole career,” Norton said. “It’s about gaining recognition and acceptance. It’s really affirming what she’s been building on.”

Lamb-Sinclair said her ‘going against the grain” approach is messy and doesn’t always work, but she and the students work together to improve it from year to year. 

“I’m a reflective person,” Lamb-Sinclair said. “I try to push the kids to be reflective because it’s an important skill for being a better person.”

The tenth-twelfth graders she teaches in creative writing are enthusiastic and passionate about writing, says Lamb-Sinclair, but some of the students are more excited about her than the class.

One student, senior Blase Henry credits Ms. Lamb for “changing his life.”

“I value her very much,” Henry said. “Before sophomore year (when I had Ms. Lamb), I was an introvert. Ms. Lamb brought all my barriers down…she saved my life.”

Henry, who is currently deciding which college he should attend next year, even wrote a four-page tribute to Ms. Lamb and how her creative writing program made him a better person.

With the respect of her students, fellow teachers and, now, the state, Ms. Lamb is deciding what she wants to do next in her career. She has the opportunity to take a one year sabbatical with the Kentucky Department of Education, where she will travel across the state observing other teachers in their classrooms.

“It’s a big decision,” she said. “I’ll only do it if it makes me a better teacher.”

Lamb-Sinclair is skeptical about the sabbatical, because she said she doesn’t want to leave her students, but her students want her to reach her goals as much as she does theirs.

“They told me, ‘You’re always telling us to change the world. What kind of role model would you be if you didn’t try?’” Lamb-Sinclair said.

  Lamb-Sinclair still has a little time to decide but for now, she will step into her role as Kentucky Teacher of the Year, where she will be an ambassador for the state’s education department. 

Lamb-Sinclair lives in Louisville with her husband and daughter.


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