Kami Lunsford, a 15-year music teacher at Karns Middle School, has dedicated herself to the craft of teaching, mentoring young Tennesseans and putting them on a track to success. This year, the Tennessee state government has noticed her commitment to excellence, labeling Lunsford the 2019-20 Tennessee Department of Education Teacher of the Year. Lunsford was humbled by the recognition—her favorite part? The ability to pay it forward. As an honoree, Lunsford will receive opportunity to sit in on the selection committee next year, something that brought her immense joy the last time she was honored.
“In 2015, after I was selected for Teacher of the Year for Knox County, I got to sit in the next year’s selection committee,” Lunsford said, adding, “The top nine also get to serve as a teacher advisory board, with the commissioner, to help make impacts on the education of Tennessee. I’m so excited to get the opportunity to do that.”
Lunsford teaches chorus to sixth, seventh and eighth graders and says she’s “lucky, blessed and fortunate” to have been at the same school for 15 years. Along the way, though, this unsung hero has furthered her devotion to teaching by picking up classes in theatre/drama and public speaking.
“Over time, I knew I wanted to do anything that I can use as an opportunity to get kids exposed to something they might want to do with their lives,” she said. “It’s a big deal to me. So I started teaching drama and public speaking.”
To this day, the West Tennessee native still does everything in her power to introduce her students to new opportunities, organizations and initiatives.
“When this comes out, I want the kids to see this. I want them to see all the interviews I’ve done, for websites, for TV and for radio,” she said. “Because what if they want to do what you guys are doing? What if that is the spark that lights their fire? I want to help them discover their dreams.”
Over the course of last few months, the pandemic has posed many challenges in the academic field. Lunsford acknowledged how difficult it might be to teach art without the ability to share supplies in the art room, to teach music without being able to touch all the music instruments and everything in between.
“The kids and I, we’re like one big family. So one of the things from the beginning, all the way through June was trying to keep them engaged and keep them connected with each other and with me, since I represent something normal to them. They’re used to seeing me every day, and I didn’t want that taken away from them all of a sudden. I kept tabs on them and offered help.”
But, in her words, that unique challenge doesn’t make her special. All teachers are trying to “reinvent the wheel and recreate the magic of the classroom,” she claims. Figuratively speaking, Lunsford said she tried to give students an outlet; a place to go, outside their home, when they literally weren’t allowed out of their home. So she took to social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram to recreate that magic and stay engaged with the middle schoolers.
“I wasn’t much of a social media person, but all that went out the window during the pandemic,” she said. “I had to find a way to have fun with my kids. I want to be the person who always finds a way to say yes to the kids, in a world where so many of them are discouraged and think ‘no, I can’t do this’ or ‘no, I can’t do that.’ I want them to hear ‘yes.’”
Lunsford says yes to her students; just as she says yes to baseball in the Music City.
“First of all, I’m a huge baseball fan. In college, I traveled with a few friends trying to see all the Major League Baseball teams in the United States,” Lunsford recalled. “Now, I’m super excited about an MLB team here! That would be amazing.”
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