Kathy Hardesty gives one of her students, kindergartner Jacob Bastin, a “high five” when he visited her room at Milton Elementary School on Wednesday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Kathy Hardesty gives one of her students, kindergartner Jacob Bastin, a “high five” when he visited her room at Milton Elementary School on Wednesday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
Kathy Hardesty never gave much thought to being a teacher, especially as a second career.

Yet at age 51, as she began the final semester of her master's degree studies, Hardesty took on a new role in the classroom - student teacher.

"Sometimes I'm like, 'Why am I doing this at my age?'" she said. But other days make the reasons clear: seeing students succeed.

Hardesty had a bachelor's degree in communications and marketing from the University of Louisville and worked at Humana Health Insurance in Florida for years.

After moving back to her home state of Kentucky and settling in Trimble County in 1996, Hardesty became involved with the Trimble County youth sports leagues with her kids and started volunteering at the schools her children attended.

While volunteering, a few teachers encouraged her to work as a substitute teacher in the district.

That was 11 years ago.

Since then, Hardesty has served 12 long-term substitute teaching assignments, covering for maternity leaves, long-term illnesses and at the beginning of school years, along with other day-to-day substitute teaching assignments.

It was during one of those long-term substitute assignments that she was called to the principal's office where middle school principal Mike Genton asked if she had ever considered going back to school to become a full-time teacher. The idea for pursuing a master's degree grew from there, she said.

Still, there were some decisions to be made before starting a master's degree program. Hardesty had to pass the Praxis test before beginning a Master of Arts in Teaching program.

"I thought, 'If I pass the test, I'll do it. If I don't, I'll stay subbing,'" she said.

Then, she needed to choose a school.

Hardesty enrolled in a Master of Arts in Teaching program with a certification in Special Education-Learning and Behavior Disorders at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky. The college's online classes allowed her to remain at home while completing most of the program in a little over a year, she said.

"It can take much longer," Hardesty said, but she took extra classes and used summer classes to finish her degree faster.

Student teaching serves as the final component of the degree program, and even though Hardesty has been in classrooms off-and-on over the last 11 years, she was still a bit hesitant about completing this portion of the program.

"I really was apprehensive," she said of student teaching at the elementary-school level. "I was more comfortable with the older students."

But her time spent at Milton Elementary School has gone well, she said. Unlike substitute teaching, Hardesty was able to see students progress in their studies during her time at the school.

"I enjoy being with the kids," she said. "It makes me feel younger."

The amounts of additional paperwork has come as a surprise as well.

"I've done lesson plans," she said, but not to the extent that her college class - or a teaching job - required.

In addition to the detailed lesson plans and reflections for her college classes, Hardesty also completes individualized education programs for each student she sees throughout the day.

"It's a tremendous amount of paperwork, especially in special needs," she said.

She also had to student teach at both the elementary- and middle school-levels during the semester to complete the requirements of the Special Education K-12 program. After spending half of the semester in the resource room at Milton Elementary, Hardesty moved on to the middle school to complete the second portion of her student-teaching assignment.

She expects to complete the last of the program requirements by Christmas Break.

"I'm living proof, you're never too old (to go back to school)," she said. "It's just another chapter in the book of Kathy."