Teachers who made a difference honored

Nadine Siler started her career in a one-room school in Whitley County during World War II and spent the next three decades teaching second graders.

Honored Saturday at the University of Kentucky along with 113 other educators, Siler, 90, said she's watched as her former students in Williamsburg have gone on to great things, becoming physicians, a mayor and even a school superintendent.

"Children in a happy environment learn," the retired teacher said. "And if they like their teacher, they even try harder."

Eighteen of Siler's former students recommended she be honored Saturday as part of the College of Education's annual Teachers Who Made A Difference program.

Although many of the nominators and teachers are from Kentucky, the program is open to anyone who wants to honor an educator they think is worthy, College of Education officials said.

Elizabeth Rebmann, who is deployed in Afghanistan with the National Guard, nominated Cathy Bilberry, her former English teacher at Lexington's Henry Clay High School.

At Henry Clay, Bilberry comforted Rebmann when a classmate died in a car wreck. Bilberry also gave her a love of reading and writing, Rebmann told UK officials.

More recently, Rebmann e-mailed Bilberry about an all-girls school in Afghanistan that needed supplies.

Bilberry, who teaches at Sayre School, encouraged her students to collect supplies that filled 23 boxes to send to the school in Afghanistan.

Bilberry said she was surprised by Rebmann's nomination. But Bilberry admitted, "I pay a lot of attention to the kids personally. I try to see them as whole people, not just (people) who turn in assignments that I have to grade."

Jessie Birdwhistell of Lexington said she nominated Stacy Jones, a special education teacher at Morton Middle School. At Morton, Jessie, who is not disabled, worked as a student tutor to Jones' disabled students.

Birdwhistell said the way Jones approaches her students encouraged her to work toward her doctorate in school psychology with a specialty in developmental disabilities and to start a local soccer league for individuals with disabilities.

"She really emphasizes their strengths when so often people focus on what they can't do," said Birdwhistell. "She taught me in a positive way to push people to their potential."

Jones explained her teaching philosophy Saturday: "We have to have high expectations for all kids."

In an interview Friday, Siler shared one of the techniques that endeared her students. She kept a piano in her classroom and when her second-graders grew tired, they would sing and play musical games.

Siler's daughter, Vivian Woods of Nicholasville, who was also one of Siler's students and nominated her for Saturday's recognition, shared another secret:

"She took on every child as if they were one of her own."