WATE 6 On Your Side Heroes

Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year, Kami Lunsford, on how to keep the magic going in class amid a pandemic

WATE 6 On Your Side Heroes

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — She was just named Teacher of the Year for the state of Tennessee, right in the middle of the most challenging time in education.

Not only that, she teaches music. It’s tough enough to talk with a mask on, much less sing. We went behind the scenes to see how Kami Lunsford at Karns Middle School makes it happen.


Lunsford was first selected on the school-wide level, then progressed to Tennessee Teacher of the Year.

“I’m not going to candy coat it or sugar-coat it,” Lunsford told us. “It’s really hard right now to be a teacher, and it’s really hard right now to be a kid, you know?”

But Lunsford has found a way to keep the magic going in her music classes.

The sounds may be muffled by masks, but the middle schoolers are engaged.

They’re learning important lessons that will hopefully stay with them.

“We’ve had a big change in our lives,” she said. “And we’ve got to model, even though it’s really hard! Right now, it’s incredibly hard; teaching them how we do and show them, modeling for them how we get through this.”

Her classroom has been home to hundreds of students during Lunsford’s 15 years at Karns Middle.

She’s behind one of the school’s most popular events — the talent show — which has been put on hold until the pandemic is over. It’s an event that brings the school and community together.

“The talent show is this living, breathing thing that starts happening in the spring – kids are trying out. Kids I’ve never met grace my room and we I need this room. Not right now though, social distancing,” she said.

“I want them to be exposed to everything I could possibly get them, get in front of their face because what if that is the spark that lights their fire for whatever it is they want to do with their life,” she said.

Karns Middle Principal Brent Glenn said, “she’s like a mother and a counselor and a teacher all in one, and any kid in her program, she just cares for them in so many ways.”

Lunsford has plans for how best to use her platform for improvements in education across the state. She will serve on Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn’s Teacher Advisory Council this school year.

“Equipping schools, funding schools so that they can do what they’ve got to do whether it’s in the building or if it’s at home. That’s a big deal.”

Another big deal to Kami Lunsford? 

Every teacher, every day, especially now.

“If you’re a teacher out there, I am not special. Right now, all over the state of Tennessee, all over the United States, all over the world, teachers are reinventing the wheel. They’re up all hours, we are tired. We are hot. We are sweating before 8:30 a.m. every day.”

Lunsford will represent Tennessee in the National Teacher Competition and serve as an ambassador for education in our state.

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