When you enter teacher Ron Skillern's Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics classroom at Bowling Green High School, you're greeted by a wooden sign with a quote in Latin from "Lonesome Dove," a book and film made about the West, that translates to "A grape ripens whenever it's with another grape."
It's a motto that Skillern lives by when he talks about his latest honor – being named to the 2017 class of the Gov. Louie B. Nunn Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame. Honorees will be inducted March 8 in Frankfort.
"I'm humbled by it. I see honors like this to be representative of a good district and the colleagues I have. You stand on the shoulders of giants," he said. "There have been good administrators, superintendents, principals and support staff since I taught in the city schools. I'm a beneficiary of good work of the elementary schools and the junior high. I see it as a collective award and not just one person."
Skillern, who was recently named Kentucky teacher of the year and Kentucky high school teacher of the year by the Kentucky Department of Education and Valvoline, said all the praise he has received has made it "an unusual year."
"To have the honors in the same year, that's just amazing," he said.
A teacher at Bowling Green High School since 1996, Skillern was chosen by a statewide committee made up of representatives from various institutions, said Tammy Spinks, administrative assistant in the dean's office in the Western Kentucky University College of Education and Behavioral Science. WKU was selected as the home of the Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame because of its more than 100-year history in teacher education.
"They review the applicants each year, and then they select them based on their qualifications and what they've accomplished as a classroom teacher," she said. "Once someone is nominated they stay in the rotation for three years."
Doing his student educator training at WKU helped set him up for a successful teaching career, Skillern said.
"We are fortunate to have the College of Education in our community," he said. "They're literally recognized as one of the best in the country. Whenever they train you, they follow your career."
Skillern's colleagues and students aren't surprised by his honor. In fact, they believe he deserves it.
"He's a phenomenal teacher. This is a person who has been a mentor to hundreds of thousands of students, not only at Bowling Green, but also Warren Central and Greenwood," said Bowling Green High School Principal William King. "You'll see him from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon. He comes in Saturdays to help prepare students for the ACT and AP tests. He always puts the students first and puts himself last."
King credits Skillern with getting him to where he is today.
"He hired me for my first teaching job," King said of Skillern, who was on the committee that hired him. "If I hadn't had him mentoring me, I wouldn't be where I am as principal at Bowling Green High School. He encouraged me to pursue my administration degree."
Allen White, a part time teacher in WKU's School of Teacher Education and a cousin of Skillern, said he is proud of him.
"He has always been one who has worked without seeking recognition. He is also a role model to faculty and staff, as well as parents," he said. "He's certainly a master teacher. To be a student is an experience. When you walk into his classroom, you know he will be there for you anytime, day or night."
White said he is looking for teachers to be as successful as Skillern.
"I see from the perspective of Ron Skillern and the perspective of teachers coming on," he said. "To be a teacher like Ron Skillern would be the epitome of a teacher's career."
Bowling Green Independent Schools Superintendent Gary Fields said Skillern being named to the hall of fame is affirming to all teachers across the state.
"He's that perfect combination of a person who understands the content and delivers it to the kids to help them be successful," he said. "They know from the beginning of the conversation that he cares about them. There's an energy about him."
Yash Singh, 17, and Peter Guthrie, 16, are juniors in Skillern's AP U.S. Government and Politics class. They believe Skillern is different than any other teacher.
"Mr. Skillern has this charisma and enthusiasm. He connects with his students," Singh said. "No one feels as if they're bored or if they're doing the same repetitive thing. He keeps it fresh and new."
"He has a kind of energy that other teachers don't. He's good at getting everybody invested in a topic," he said. "He's writing a billion letters of recommendation. He's got a lot of new opportunities. He gives attention to students outside of class with their college application or whatever they're trying to do."
For Skillern, it's all about the students.
"I'm trying to get opportunities for kids. In the city schools we have some of the best kids anywhere," he said. "They're hardworking. They're respectful. I have great, great kids to work with."
Others inducted into the Kentucky Teacher Hall of Fame are retired educators Opal T. Sibert, who had a 30-year career in the Laurel County School System, and Joe Westerfield, who spent 33 years as an educator in Daviess County schools.
– Follow features reporter Alyssa Harvey on Twitter @bgdnfeatures or visit bgdailynews.com.