After more than three decades of teaching, Ron A. Skillern’s biggest piece of advice for new teachers is to pause at the end of each school day and reflect on how to improve.
“You have to try to figure out at the end of the day what has worked with that child and what has not,” said Skillern, a government teacher at Bowling Green High School, where he’s been since 1996.
That approach has taken Skillern far in his career. He was inducted Wednesday into the Gov. Louie B. Nunn Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Frankfort. Other inductees included Joe Westerfield of Hartford and Opal Sibert of Manchester.
Skillern was also named Kentucky’s 2017 teacher of the year by the Kentucky Department of Education and Valvoline.
Despite his personal success, Skillern stays grounded and credits others in the Bowling Green Independent School District and its board of education for supporting him.
After growing up in Bowling Green, Skillern earned bachelor’s degrees in history and political science from Western Kentucky University in 1978, according to a WKU news release. He earned his master’s degree in education from Vanderbilt University in 1984 and his Rank 1 in education from WKU in 1987.
He got his start in teaching in 1985 at Warren Central High School, where he taught social studies before moving to Greenwood High School.
In 1992, he started teaching a three-week summer course about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust to seventh- through 10th-graders through the Center for Gifted Studies’ summer program for Verbally and Mathematically Precocious Youth.
As a teacher, Skillern said he never put stock in the idea that teachers should remain distant and avoid friendships with students.
“Teachers need to be a good friend to their kids,” he said, stressing that positive relationships help motivate people.
His background in coaching cross-country and track also taught him how to motivate kids, he said.
Bowling Green schools Superintendent Gary Fields said he’s seen Skillern’s talent for motivating students, whether that means offering encouragement or getting tough with students who just aren’t trying. He said Skillern taught him the value of great teachers.
“The true value in great schools is those teachers that have spent 30-plus years in the classroom making that impact on scores of kids,” he said.
During the induction ceremony, Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt echoed that sentiment when he quoted a former student’s description of Skillern.
“He doesn’t see students as who they are,” he said. “He sees them as who they can be.”