Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner poses with Franklin Community High School English Language Arts teacher Eric Jenkins after he was named 2024 Indiana Teacher of the Year by the Indiana Department of Education. Andy Bell-Baltaci | Daily Journal

A school-wide assembly in the Franklin Community High School gymnasium Monday started off as a celebration of students’ accomplishments in sports, clubs and fine arts.

But in a surprise twist, Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner walked to the podium and announced English Language Arts teacher Eric Jenkins as 2024 Indiana Teacher of the Year. Hundreds of students and staff members erupted in cheers, some holding cutouts of Jenkins, whose family was also on-hand to witness the celebration. Indiana Department of Education officials chose Jenkins among about 65,000 Hoosier teachers.

He is the first Johnson County educator to win the award in the history of the Teacher of the Year program, which began in 1967.

“I’m not one for the spotlight,” Jenkins said. “I think most of us teachers, we’d rather shine the light on our students in the room. This is not about us, it’s about the community around us. It’s about our transportation departments, IT departments and custodians. It’s not about me, it’s about the central office and our administration. It’s about the school guidance counselors, cafeteria workers, our social workers, school nurses — the people that mend our hearts and minds and our bodies. It’s not about me, it’s about us.”

Jenkins is in his 13th year of teaching and currently teaches 10th-grade honors and general English Language Arts classes as well as Indiana University’s Advanced College Project (ACP) Composition Course W131. Jenkins began his career at the American Christian Academy in Ibadan, Nigeria in 2007, and moved back to the U.S. in 2008 to teach in Trussville, Alabama.

Originally from Indiana, he returned to the state after receiving his master’s degree in literacy from the State University of New York. He joined Franklin Community High School’s teaching staff in 2013. Along with the completion of his Master’s work, Jenkins has a Master’s certificate in High Ability Education, and pursued additional training in order to strengthen his classroom instruction and teach W131 for dual credit, according to a news release from Franklin schools.

With the honor, Jenkins will join Teachers of the Year from other states and U.S. territories at national teaching orientations and professional development opportunities. He’ll also have chances to speak to prospective teachers at Indiana colleges, Jenner said.

Jenkins said he’s looking forward to sharing his enthusiasm for teaching with the next generation of educators.

“I’m excited about that because my favorite thing, my goal is to be a classroom teacher,” he said. “A lot of people will ask, ‘Well, now that you’ve been in the classroom so long, isn’t it time to move to administration or teaching in higher-level classes?’ My answer is always ‘no.’ I just love teaching in the classroom. I love teaching. I don’t want to be an administrator or anything like that. So I’m excited. I’m excited to inspire a new generation of teachers.”

Jenkins was chosen by his fellow faculty members to represent the school in the statewide contest. He then submitted a teaching portfolio and wrote a series of essays based on prompts as IDOE officials narrowed down the list of nominees. Essay prompts included issues and trends in education, teaching philosophy, and what drove Jenkins to be a teacher, among other topics.

Jenkins finds ways to engage students in the material they’re learning through activities such as a mock trial, during which students act as witnesses, judges and lawyers, and a reporting section, which has students writing opinion editorials and roleplaying as journalists, he said in August, when he was named a Top 10 finalist.

The IDOE’s selection committee interviewed each candidate in the Top 10 before narrowing it down to a final three. They then visited each of those three educators to observe while they taught, said Rebecca Estes, IDOE’s senior director of educator talent.

“Eric’s passion and dedication for his students just stood out in the classroom, his ability to, on the fly, continue to engage with the students,” she said. “The reaction of the students, and just the support that he has from administration and staff really stood out to the selection committee. We tried to find somebody who can be an advocate for teachers across the entire state of Indiana. His dedication is really reflective of what we see all across the state.”

Jenkins also has the humility needed to be an effective teacher, Jenner said.

“What stood out most about him is his humility and the ability to continue driving forward with everything that needs to be done for his students. The way that his staff came around to support his selection as a top three finalist says something about him as a collaborator,” she said. “As he said, it’s not about him. It really is an opportunity for them to speak on behalf of teachers across the state and to advocate for the profession.”

Jenkins is truly deserving of the honor and is a great representative for FCHS to have, Principal Steve Ahaus said.

“He’s a humble person who works extremely hard at his craft and collaboration with others,” he said. “The way he treats students brings respect in the classroom. He’s just a phenomenal teacher, and so I think he’s very deserving. I think it says something about our building. Our teachers work hard, it’s the kind of culture we want to create here where we have teachers handling the profession the way that Eric does. I think he’s a good model for us to do that.”