One teacher leader’s journey from the classroom to the newsroom
Kathy Hays, one of Ambassador Leaders’ experienced teacher leaders, recently published an article about her summer serving on the Leadership in Action Summit at UCLA and the Medicine and Health Care Summit at Johns Hopkins. We sat down with her to learn more about her experiences as a teacher leader and as a senior staff writer at her local newspaper.
Ambassador Leaders: Share with our readers how long you’ve been an educator and what you teach.
Kathy: I taught at Cherokee High School for 40 years. It’s where I spent my entire teaching career, and it was wonderful. Besides teaching English and journalism, I also taught sociology and psychology. I didn’t really plan to be a teacher, but I fell into it and it became my life. My students joked that, in the end, they’d have to carry me out on a stretcher! I never wanted to leave! So even though technically I retired three years ago, I say I never really stopped working. I have a new classroom and a new audience. The whole world is out there; I’m just teaching in a new environment. Plus, I get to travel more.
AL: Tell us about how you got involved with Ambassador Leaders.
K: My students, actually! I nominated students to attend summits for several years, and after returning from their travels, my students returned the favor by nominating me to serve as a leader. Since then, I have traveled to Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, and UCLA.
Ambassador Leaders has made a big difference in my life. As an educator, it’s great to watch students use their knowledge to problem-solve, find solutions, and present as a team. The students truly do miraculous things in the span of a week.
AL: How did you become a staff writer?
K: Well, I’ve always written for different publications. I was the president and newsletter writer for the local chapter of a teacher’s association here in Alabama, and I sponsored my school’s newspaper and yearbook. I’m a lifelong writer; it’s what I love to do.
After I retired, a local paper called and asked if I’d consider working for them part-time. I decided to go for it, and soon after I was given my own column. My friends and family had been telling me since I retired that it was time to “write my next chapter.” So, when my editor asked what to title my column, I knew right away: Kathy’s Next Chapter.
Fun fact: Helen Keller’s father once owned this newspaper and his original printing press is still there!
AL: What inspired you to write this article?
K: I get to choose what I want to write about for each of my columns. When I returned from the Ambassador Leader Summits and mentioned what a great time I had, my editor encouraged me to write a full article about my experiences. I’m a people-person and love to write human-interest stories. This was a perfect fit. So, I sat down and wrote from my heart, and this article is the result.
AL: What is the most impactful part of an Ambassador Leadership Summit for you as a leader?
K: You get to teach something and then you get to do it, to live it. It’s the best of both worlds, really. And, it makes a difference in the lives of the students. The summit builds upon their passions and brings those passions to the next level. It gives students insight into areas they might not know about otherwise. As a teacher, that’s the goal: to enhance students’ interest and equip them with the tools to be productive in their future careers. That’s exactly what Ambassador Leaders does.
Also, you can see the outcome. When students arrive, they’re fresh and nervous to be alone, but by the second or third day, they’re different people! They’re working toward a common goal and sharing their interests with one another. Our students are passionate about what they do on program; they’re talking about their presentations at meals and as they walk and in their dorm rooms. They carry it with them when they leave and continue to do great things in their communities. It’s a global world now. Ambassador Leaders offers that perspective.
AL: When you’re not traveling or writing, how do you spend your time?
K: I do keep busy with community service and involvement in local clubs, but I also facilitated the Lead2Feed curriculum that I learned from Ambassador Leaders with my students at Cherokee High. Twenty years ago, I started an on-campus club called RAK, which stands for Random Acts of Kindness. The club has done canned food drives throughout the years and was the perfect partner for the Lead2Feed project. My students came up with their own ideas and received plenty of support from coordinators at the Lead2Feed headquarters. In the end, they not only gathered thousands of canned food items to distribute but also provided families in need with tomato plants and other garden seeds. The goal was not just to provide canned food once, but to help people learn to produce their own food year-round. The feedback was amazing. Recipients were so appreciative, and participants received certificates and a plaque from Lead2Feed for their efforts. They really made a difference.
My dad used to say the things that we love get “in our blood.” And that’s just it. Travel, Ambassador Leaders, teaching—well, they’re in my blood.
By Corie Bales
Corie is the Academic Affairs Manager of Ambassador Leaders. As a lifelong educator and avid traveler, she believes in empowering students and teachers to learn and lead through experiential education.