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Alumni Spotlight: Teacher Stories

Alumni Spotlight: Teacher Stories

By President Cheryl Nixon

Berea College has been training teachers for generations. Sending caring, passionate educators into the world is critical to our mission. Teachers inspire their students to think in new ways, to ask unexpected questions, to search for creative solutions, and to imagine futures full of hope and promise.  Teaching is both rewarding and challenging, and people certainly don’t do it for the money! I’m proud to present, in brief, the stories of just a few of our local Berea alumni teachers, what they learned in college and what they are passing along to the next generation. It warms one’s heart to see that the Berea values of love, compassion, dedication and personal growth are essential parts of a meaningful and impactful curriculum.

Kenna Nichols
Kenna Nichols ’19

Elementary Education with Child and Family Studies Minor

Kenna’s Berea Story
My Berea story is all about enlightenment. Coming from a small town with little diversity, I was exposed to a ton of new lifestyles and people that I had never encountered. I learned a lot about myself and how I perceive the world, and it changed me for the better. I’m glad I was able to experience so much diversity and develop a more open mind to take into my personal and professional life after Berea.

The Most Important Thing I Learned
The most important thing I learned at Berea and carried into my teaching career was to love students above all else. Take them where they are and take into consideration all of their struggles and trauma that they can’t leave at home. Put them first and do what’s best for them always.

The Berea Values I’m Passing Along
The Berea values I’m imparting to my students are pride in themselves and building strong character.

Advice for Future Teachers

For current Berea College students wanting to be teachers, I would say that you will hear a ton of stories, both terrible and wonderful, but the most important to remember is your own. Teaching is what you make of it. Where you teach and who you teach with can make all the difference. You have to find your place.


Berea Community School teacher Cinda Holland
Cinda Holland ’15

Math Education

Cinda’s Berea Story

Berea allowed me to break generational curses. It gave me the tools I need to break the cycles of poverty and abuse. The values and skills I learned at Berea are embedded in my classroom culture and in my own home. I am very thankful for my Berea Beloved.

The Most Important Thing I Learned

I had a class about study and organization skills. In that class, I was able to refine my own organization strategies. This has really helped me to stay above water with all of the documentation and paperwork required when teaching.

The Berea Values I’m Passing Along

Everyone has a story that only they know. Therefore, you must treat everyone with respect and kindness. That is the bare minimum. My first year at Berea was an eye opener. It was the first time I had met and actually talked with people different from me. So at least once a day, I found myself exchanging “Berea Stories” (the stories that led us to Berea and what we have learned since we got here). Those stories opened my eyes to so many different things my friends were going through that I never would have known had I not asked.

Advice for Future Teachers

Trust your advisors and build that relationship. I would not be where I am without my advisor, Jon Saderholm. It is one of the most important relationships I left Berea with.


Linda Williams
Linda Williams ’83

Math and English

Linda’s Berea Story

When I was a senior, I had to take a really difficult class called Topology that was abstract and abounded in “proofs.”  One day, after taking a test that I studied very hard for, the professor was going over a few of the test questions in the next class session after we had taken the test. For every question that he went over, I realized that I had not done it the way it was “supposed” to be done.  Feeling that I must have failed the test, I managed to hold myself together until I got out of the class. Then I went to the bathroom and cried. He must have seen my face during the class because the next morning, even though it was Saturday and I lived off campus that year, he took the time to call me to tell me that I had made a  B on the test and that the only problems I had missed parts of were the ones he had discussed the day after the test. I greatly appreciated that he cared enough about me personally to (1) notice that I was upset and (2) to want to keep me from agonizing all weekend about what I thought was a failing grade.

The Most Important Thing I Learned

The liberal arts education at Berea College helps to remind us that we are part of a greater world and that we all need to realize that we have a personal responsibility to help take care of our “neighbor” next door as well as our “neighbor” who lives on the other side of the world.  We need to think about sustainable resources, recycling, reducing our carbon footprint, etc.  We need to be concerned about homeless people and world hunger.

The Berea Values I’m Passing Along

I love that Berea College teaches students that there is value in learning to work hard, whether you work as a janitor or dining services server or a teaching assistant. Another idea that was reinforced for me while at Berea College is the importance and joy of being a lifelong learner and the importance of having a growth mindset. I try to impart these values to my students even though I teach math.

Advice for Future Teachers

Be passionate and enthusiastic about your subject.  I teach math, which many students do not particularly care for before they enter my classroom.  But I try to make the learning of mathematics interesting because I let them know it can be “fun.”  My energy and enthusiasm helps many of my math-avoiding students to say:  “I don’t particularly like math but I LOVE your class, Ms. Williams.”  That is a win.  My favorite notes are ones that some struggling math students have sent me that say, “Thank you for not giving up on me.  I now feel that I CAN do math.”  That is a win.  We don’t just teach students; we touch lives.  The young people in our classroom are individual people that need to be ministered to with care, respect and compassion.

Donnie Hunley
Donnie Hunley ’08

Physical Education and Health

Donnie’s Story

I grew up in the Cumberland Gap area of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. My family roots are in Kentucky and Virginia. I attended Thomas Walker High School in Ewing, Va. I was the first of my family to attend college. I came to Berea to get an education that my family could not provide for me. I was fortunate to be a member of the men’s basketball team from 2003-2007. I stayed a fifth year to student teach and finish my minor. I met my beautiful wife of 17 years at Berea. She is also a graduate (2009). We have settled our family here in Berea. I have worked for Madison County Schools since 2008. I have served as a teacher, coach, athletic director, assistant principal and now serve as head principal at Foley Middle School.

The Most Important Thing I Learned

The most important thing I learned at Berea and carried on is the work ethic it takes to be successful at anything you do.

The Berea Values I’m Passing Along

“God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth.” (Acts 17:26) I’m taking this value out into the world knowing that God has created us all and that we are all working toward his glory. Each student or teacher I work with daily is an opportunity for me to share this value with others and promote God’s love through actions.

Advice for Future Teachers

Know that the field of education is an ever-changing field with high expectations. Education takes passion and pride in what you do to survive the challenges that will be faced. Real-life experience is more valuable than discussions of “what-if” situations.

Sara Sexton
Sara Sexton ’99


Sara’s Berea Story

My husband (Eddie) and I moved into a farmhouse in Jonesville, Virginia right after we got married when we were 19. We met our neighbor, Mr. Lynn Murphree, and his wife, Pat, shortly after we moved in. They were angels to us—helping us mow our yard before we bought our first lawnmower, inviting us over for dinner and also inviting us to their church down the road. It was a struggle trying to slowly work our way through community college while working to support a household when we were so young. It turns out that Mr. Murphree was a Berea College admissions counselor. He knew we were reluctant to move so far away from home to go to school, but he knew Berea would be a perfect fit for us. I don’t think that we would have made the decision to go to Berea College unless we trusted Lynn so much. I went on to get my teaching certification, master’s degree, and Rank 1 after graduating from Berea College, and my husband, Eddie, continued his education as well and is the principal at Clark-Moores Middle School in Richmond. We will be forever grateful for Lynn and Pat and their connection to Berea College because it drastically changed the direction of our future.

The Most Important Thing I Learned

The most important thing I learned at Berea College is the importance of working hard and not quitting when confronted with challenges.

The Berea Values I’m Passing Along

I want my students to know that they should view themselves as someone who can overcome obstacles, such as poverty or a troubled history, in order to turn things around and invest in themselves through hard work and perseverance. I will always appreciate the investment Berea College made in me, but I also view my college experience as an investment I made in myself.

Advice for Future Teachers

Teaching is a profession full of changes. Teachers must be very flexible when making instructional decisions. It is difficult to maintain a balance between holding on to what you have experienced that works well for students while embracing new initiatives and strategies. I would advise new teachers to be reflective and always do what is best for students. It is very easy to lose focus of what is really important in the world of education.