2021-22 CCSD Teachers of the Year (scroll down)
Degrees and Certifications:
Cache County School District's 2021-22 Teacher of the Year: Morgan Christensen
From the time she was young, Christensen was passionate about learning. In her childhood cul de sac, she would collect books to read that other neighborhood kids didn’t want at the end of the school year. When Christensen was in junior high school, her family moved from Oregon to Utah. She came to Cache Valley to complete her STEM endorsement while her husband was finishing up school. Christensen and her husband recently became first-time parents, welcoming a son to their family.
Christensen is passionate about using engagement strategies in her classroom. She keeps students engaged in either three different movements or three different responses. For example, when a student answers a question, their classmates will put their hands together in an arrow shape and point to the person speaking to show that they are listening. When students know the answer to a question or have a question, Christensen invites them to stand up in order to get them moving and get their wiggles out.
Creating a safe space for students is something fundamental to Christensen. She encourages children in her class to express their feelings and hopes they feel like they can have a different opinion. “I want them to feel safe here. I love the curriculum, but there is nothing better than building that relationship and letting them know that I’m here for them.” Christensen explained. She emphasizes to her students that it is okay to have different opinions than other people do.
“I know they're not going to remember all of the little things, but they will remember how I make them feel. I want them to continue on in school and I let them know this is their safe haven,” Christensen shared. “When they know that I value them and what they think, then they're going to love being here.”
Summit Elementary’s principal Aimee McNeil admires how dedicated Christensen is to her profession and appreciates her natural ability to build positive relationships with staff, students, and parents. “I have been impressed with her confidence, her ability to collaborate, and her actions as a team player who goes above and beyond what is asked of her,” McNeil explained. “Her efforts, combined with genuine interactions with her students, create a culture of community in her classroom evidenced by student collaboration, academic conversation, and high student engagement.”
Christensen is grateful to everyone who has helped teach, inspire, and shape her into the teacher she is today. “It’s nice to feel recognized for what I’ve done,” she said, “but I also hope everyone who has helped me and taught me knows that this award is 100% their award too.”
Christensen is currently in her fifth year of teaching third grade.
Degrees and Certifications:
Birch Creek Elementary: Richard Rigby
“One choice does not say who you are,” Richard Rigby tells his students. “But that one choice can help you to grow to who you can be.” Birch Creek Teacher of the Year Richard Rigby understands the challenges his fourth-graders face throughout the year. Learning new subjects, taking tests, and managing emotions can often be daunting and stressful. Rigby has found ways to help his students regulate their emotions while still having fun and learning. Recently, he has implemented weekly meditation in his classroom instruction with the help of the Calm app.
Five years ago, Rigby came up with the idea of meditation after reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey. He wanted to shift his thinking and approach to teaching his students to have a growth mindset, believing that a person can develop strengths and abilities through hard work and growing over time. However, while applying what he had learned, he realized his students had a lot going on around them, making it hard to stay focused.
Rigby explained that taking 10 minutes a day or several times throughout the week helps empower students with methods to calm themselves down. This outlet has allowed students to express themselves in ways they could not verbalize. Additionally, Rigby believes it's important for students to understand that mistakes are part of the learning process. You can always learn from them and use those experiences in the future.
Along with meditation and a growth mindset, Rigby is passionate about greeting his students at the door every morning. He has found that those small interactions first thing in the morning can set the tone for the rest of the day. “If you greet students at the door as much as possible, you can recognize if they are going to have a bad day or if they have a bad day, you can see it in their countenance,” Rigby added. “You can see it in their countenance, but you can also give them a fist bump or a high five,” Rigby said that this allows for students to feel safe and ready to learn.
Rigby was born on a farm in Montpelier, Idaho, and is the oldest of 12 children. He was inspired by his grandfather, a beloved teacher in Montpelier, to pursue a career in education. After attending Ricks’s college, Rigby moved to Logan to attend Utah State University, taking a career choices class that cemented his decision to teach. Rigby has been teaching for 23 years and has worked at Birch Creek since 2010 when the school first opened.
Degrees and Certifications:
Cache High School: Emma Heath
Congratulations to Cache High’s Emma Heath for being chosen as the school's 2021-22 Teacher of the Year! Heath has been teaching psychology, reading/vocabulary, humanities, and sociology for the last two years.
Heath was born in El Paso, Texas, but has lived in Cache Valley for the last 20 years. While attending Utah State University, she studied clinical psychology with a majority of her background in sexual assault and violence. Heath was presented with the opportunity to teach at the Cache County jail as a part of the Adult Education extension at Cache High. She quickly fell in love with teaching and felt at home at Cache High.
While teaching the crime unit in her humanities class, Heath educates students about labeling theory and the importance of nuanced language. She believes it is important to be careful about labeling who and what you are. “Labels are so powerful,” Heath observed. “As soon as you tell a kid they are a ‘bad kid’ or a ‘criminal,’ they operate on that label.” She also emphasizes to students the importance of saying phrases like “I feel tired” instead of saying “I am tired.” When someone says they are something rather than stating how they feel, it becomes part of their identity.
Heath remembers a high school teacher that impacted her life by labeling her as intelligent and successful. “I had a teacher, and she was the first teacher that I had who told me I was smart,” she explained. “And from then on out, I got straight A’s. I had never gotten a 4.0 GPA before— and it was just because she told me that I was smart and I believed it.” Heath’s goal is to make sure her students know that she believes in them and that they can achieve anything they set their minds to.
Although teaching was not her original career choice, Heath believes she ended up right where she belongs. “I’ve never been so glad that my ‘Plan A’ didn’t work out,” she explained. “I was really glad that I just went with the flow and had the faith that what's supposed to happen will fall into place.” She describes the change in her career path as the “absolute best thing of my life.” In addition to her work at Cache High, Heath continues to teach at the jail every Monday through Thursday after school.
Sheri Hansen, the principal at Cache High, was the person who encouraged Heath to get her teaching license when a teaching position opened up at the school. She describes Heath’s classroom as more than just a place where students learn and complete classwork; it’s a comfortable environment and a safe space for students. “Emma is such a dedicated soul, giving all to her students and the people around her,” Hansen explained. “She goes above and beyond with the contributions to the correctional students in Adult Ed. She believes the best in people and can command a high expectation for her students, which motivates and inspires them.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Canyon Elementary: Heather Eames
Congratulations to Heather Eames, Canyon Elementary’s 2021-22 Teacher of the Year! During her second year of teaching, Eames remembers a mother of one of her students coming up to her at a grocery store explaining how her son felt like many of his teachers didn’t like him, but he knew that he was Mrs. Eames’ favorite. This experience helped Eames see the value of making her students feel loved and valued. Eames strives to treat every student like they are her favorite.
Eames believes that if students have a good relationship with their teachers, they will do better. When she thinks back to her own education, she remembers learning and producing more when her teachers liked her. Eames wants her students to know that she knows them, cares for them, and wants what is best for each of them.
Eames is from American Fork, Utah, and has been teaching fourth grade at Canyon Elementary for five years. Before coming to the Cache County School District, she taught in Logan City School District for 17 years. Eames has loved her time at Canyon and feels very connected with her fourth-grade team. “I love my team here,” Eames explained. “I am a better teacher because of them.”
Throughout her time as a teacher, Eames has enjoyed seeing growth in her students. Seeing a student go from having a hard time with math to loving math is something that she finds very rewarding. “It makes my job worthwhile,” Eames explained. “When I can help them see that they have strengths--and even though we all have our weaknesses--we can still build on those and help other kids around us.”
Stacie Williamson, the principal at Canyon, is impressed by the fun, fast-paced, and engaging environment of Eames’ classroom. She appreciates that Eames is willing to go the extra mile to train new teachers, organize lunch delivery, and spearhead Fun Fridays. “Heather does an amazing job with her students each and every day,” Williamson explained. “We are fortunate to have her, and it is no surprise that she was overwhelmingly voted as our teacher of the year this year at Canyon!”
Degrees and Certifications:
Cedar Ridge Elementary: Renee Hawkes
Renee Hawkes, otherwise known as Miss Renee by her students and colleagues, has been named Cedar Ridge Elementary’s 2021-22 Teacher of the Year! Hawkes started her career with Cache County School District 29 years ago. She has worked at Sunrise Elementary, North Park Elementary, and has been at Cedar Ridge for the last five years.
Hawkes describes kindergarten as a magical place where she has the unique opportunity to be a child’s first teacher and set the stage for a positive and engaging educational experience for the rest of their lives. “I can kindle enthusiasm for learning, exploration, and discovery, such as how letters make sounds, how sounds connect to make words, and how words allow us to read,” she explained. She believes that seeing “Aha” moments with her students makes everything worth it.
Hawkes found herself teaching kindergarten after her first husband was killed in a pedestrian accident in Chicago. At that time, her life took a 180-degree turn as she became a single mother of two young boys. She previously had received her Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education from Brigham Young University and she decided to return to school and get recertified to teach Early Childhood Education. At the time, her mother was helping her apply to different schools around the country. As her mother applied to Cache County School District, she had an overwhelming feeling that this was where her daughter would be hired. When Hawkes got the job at Sunrise Elementary, she realized that this was exactly what she needed. “After my loss, being with unconditionally loving kindergarten students changed my life,” she said.
Hawkes’ philosophy on teaching comes from the old adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” She believes that building relationships first helps create an environment and atmosphere of love, mutual trust, and respect. This enables children to feel emotionally safe. “If you build strong relationships with your students, those relationships become a springboard for future learning and growth,” Hawkes explained. “The greatest joy I find in teaching is the love that can be developed and maintained between teacher and student. I simply want to make a positive difference in my students’ lives and help them to succeed in their educational journey!”
Cedar Ridge principal Amy Ivie describes Hawkes as a team player who is loved by all of her students and parents in the community. “Renee is absolutely amazing,” Ivie observed. “Her classroom runs like a well-oiled machine; she is organized and full of energy.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Greenville Elementary: Bethany Moak
Congratulations to Bethany Moak, who has been named Greenville Elementary’s Teacher of the Year! Moak taught for a year at Lincoln Elementary before transferring to Greenville Elementary, where she has worked for two years. Prior to teaching, Moak worked in the district as a behavior aide and resource aide.
Although her intended career path was to teach social studies and history as a middle school teacher, Moak discovered her calling as a resource teacher during her student teaching. She noticed herself gravitating towards those students who struggled with the material and realized that her greater desire was to focus on those whose needs required a little special attention.
With her students in mind, Moak has designed her classroom to be a calming, comfortable space. In the corner of the room, she set up an area with banana chairs, hanging flowers, paper lanterns, and a beach poster. Some of Moak’s students struggle with regulating their emotions and bodies, and some of them have sensory needs. This space in Moak’s classroom gives them a place to cool off after stressful situations.
“That area is a place where students can go chill at ‘the beach’ and take a break after their hard work,” Moak explained. “If I notice that they are struggling with an emotion or something they are working on, I will tell them to take a break, rest, grab a drink of water—and that usually helps them to reset.”
This thoughtfulness and empathy characterize Moak’s interactions with her students. She strives to be part of a support system that helps students through change and navigating the world in which they live. “It doesn’t just help them educationally,” Moak stated. “It helps them believe in themselves and helps them with all of the challenges in life.”
As she encourages and helps them to push past their stumbling blocks, Moak finds fulfillment in seeing her students progress and overcome obstacles. “I just love that I get to see them challenge themselves with something that they struggle with, overcome it, and find confidence within themselves,” Moak added. “I look forward to seeing where their lives might go and hope that I will have made a difference.”
Troy Pugmire, the principal at Greenville Elementary, observed that Moak constantly strives to place her students’ best interests first. “Bethany inspires students to work hard and improve,” Pugmire said. “She is kind, genuinely loves her students, and puts in lots of extra school hours.” Principal Pugmire appreciates Moak’s contribution as an educator and staff member at the school. “She is an amazing teacher who is truly making a difference,” he shared. “We are fortunate to have her here at Greenville.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Green Canyon High School: Alisha Rawlins
A positive and uplifting environment is what Green Canyon High School’s Teacher of the Year, Alisha Rawlins, strives for in her Life Skills classroom. Alisha Rawlins, or Miss Alisha as her students call her, knows that students learn the best when they are happy and comfortable.
Alisha has several techniques to help her students keep a positive attitude to ensure that her classroom stays as positive as it can. By the door of her classroom is an affirmation station. The words “I am…” are posted at the top of a mirror. This gives students the chance to look at themselves and choose an attribute, such as “I am unique.” The affirmation station is helpful during times when students are struggling. Alisha will take them over to the mirror and help them see the exceptional qualities they possess.
Another positive and empowering activity Alisha does in her classroom is counteracting negative self-talk. If anyone, including peer tutors and even teachers, says something negative about themselves, they have to follow it up with five positive qualities. Encouraging positive self-talk is essential in Alisha’s classroom because she has found that her students desire to work harder when they have a positive mindset.
Additionally, Alisha strives to make sure her student's needs are consistently met by having unique activities to keep them engaged. When the weather is nice, she teaches several of her lessons outside, such as using chalk to solve math problems and walking around the school looking for different plants, flowers, and sounds.
Alisha is grateful for the community of support that helps to educate her students. She works closely with her 13 classroom aides, peer tutors, co-teachers, and the parents of her students. Along with math, science, and social studies, students learn how to button shirts, use an oven, determine what types of foods they may be allergic to, and read labels on food containers. They also learn hygiene practices and even practice communication and socialization by making pretend phone calls and asking for phone numbers and contact information. Recently, Alisha’s students had a lesson on April Fools' Day—about what pranks are and how to think through and determine which types of pranks are appropriate.
Alisha is a Hope Squad advisor, has led Special Olympics basketball and soccer, and even assisted in organizing Special Forces Sports Day. Principal Dave Swensen describes Rawlins as a positive ray of sunshine, always upbeat and smiling. “I’ve seen her in action, especially with students who are in a tumultuous situation,” Swenson said. “She keeps this composure that calms them down very quickly. It’s amazing what she does.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Heritage Elementary: Erin McNeil
A sign hangs above the sink as you walk into Erin McNeil’s fifth-grade classroom that reads, “In case no one told you today….Hello, good morning! You belong here. You’re doing great! I believe in you.” This is one of the many positive and encouraging signs that you will find hanging around the classroom, but the difference between this sign and her other signs is that this quote never changes.
McNeil explained that the quote above her sink never changes because she wants to remind students every day that there is someone on their side cheering them on. Her goal is for her students to have a place where they feel like they belong, knowing they can be whoever they are.
McNeil grew up in Idaho Falls and moved to Cache Valley in 2003. She took several years off to raise her children and later worked as a special education aide while getting recertified to teach. McNeil has been teaching fifth grade at Heritage for the last two years. Even though she jumped back into her teaching career at the start of the pandemic, she has loved every minute of it.
Creating a happy environment for learning is essential to McNeil because she knows that when students feel comfortable, they can push themselves to greater lengths. “If you can take care of those basic needs and they feel safe, and they feel secure, it opens up the door for them to learn,” McNeil explained. “They don’t have to hold back when they are trying to learn. They can really explore things and let their opinions out if they know that nobody is going to judge them for what they are going to say. Nobody is going to turn their backs on them.”
McNeil’s teaching has been shaped by the teachers she has had throughout her life and the mentors that have been there to help her. A couple of teachers who have impacted her life have been her high school German teacher, whose philosophy of learning allowed students to retake tests or turn in assignments late, and a middle school teacher who went the extra mile to make her feel heard and understood.
Now, McNeil has the opportunity to take the kindness and compassion shown to her when she was in school and become that same kind of teacher to her students. You will often find McNeil talking to current and past students before and after school, helping them with concepts they don’t understand, or helping with the Kindness Committee Club.
Degrees and Certifications:
Lewiston Elementary: Mandi Sigg
Every day at Lewiston Elementary, Mandi Sigg uses creativity to help reinforce concepts that are being taught in the classroom. Sigg, Lewiston’s 2021-22 Teacher of the Year, takes on the challenge of incorporating ideas that will help students see their education differently. She teaches art as part of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program (BTSALP), which provides arts-integrated instruction to increase comprehension in every school subject.
Sigg has worked at Lewiston Elementary for six years and has also spent the last three years teaching art in the morning at North Cache Middle School. As an art teacher, she appreciates the opportunity to teach every grade level, starting with preschool and going up through middle school. This has allowed her to make lasting connections with her students as she watches them grow over the years.
As she plans her lessons, Sigg communicates regularly with classroom teachers so she can understand what students may need extra help understanding. She then creates projects to help students grasp the concepts differently. For example, a recent project had students mix ¼ part yellow paint with ¼ part red paint to help them understand fractions. In a different lesson, sixth-grade students who were learning about The Great Depression looked at photography during that time and then wrote poems that went along with the artwork from that era.
“I can’t say enough about creativity and how it goes into every aspect of your life,” Sigg explained. Over her six years of teaching at Lewiston, Sigg has seen art shape her students as they learn longterm problem-solving skills when their art doesn’t turn out the way they planned and have to find a new approach. “You see this over and over with people who hire for jobs; they want creative thinkers, everybody wants someone who can think outside the box,” Sigg noted. “There’s no other way to try and do that than through the arts.”
Quilting and sewing have been a love of Sigg’s since she was a little girl. That love inspired Sigg to write a grant proposal for a quilting project for her students. She wanted Lewiston Elementary to have some more permanent art pieces for the school. The Logan Quilt Guild donated batting and time to help Sigg assemble the quilts. These quilts have been displayed in Lewiston, at Utah State University, and across Utah.
This year, each grade level created fabric squares using different techniques. As first graders learned about cacti and adaptations in the desert, they used fabric markers to create desert scenes. Second graders used a fabric dyeing technique called batik to create abstract animals and their habitats. Third graders painted with acrylic to show tiny details of fossils from around the earth as they studied fossils that have been found around Utah. In fourth grade, students learned about the sun's effect on our planet and ecosystems by using the photographic process of cyanotype. Students were able to see the impact of the sun's ultraviolet rays in real-time. Lewiston’s fifth graders used the ancient art process of shibori dying to observe chemical changes. As the green dye oxidized, it changed to blue. Sixth graders study the moon's motion and were inspired to use a bleaching stencil technique to capture different phases of the moon.
Leslie Burton, Lewiston Elementary’s principal, appreciates how Sigg makes Lewiston better and more beautiful with the art that hangs in the hallways. “She brings out the creativity in all students. Lewiston really hit the jackpot when we hired Mandi to be our BTSALP art teacher.”
Degrees and Certifications:
Lincoln Elementary: Charlotte Davis
Every morning, students in Charlotte Davis’ fifth-grade classroom are greeted by Hydro, the Scottish cow hanging on the wall. Davis has a deep love for Scotland and the Scottish highland cows. In Scotland, people say “Happy ‘Coos’ (cow) Day” instead of saying “Happy Tuesday.” To celebrate Coos Day, Davis wears cow t-shirts and puts up a picture of a highland cow on her Tuesday morning announcements.
Even more than cows or Scotland, however, Davis loves her students. Her goal is to make every student feel like they have a friend and someone to support them. She prioritizes her students' well-being by checking in with them throughout the day and learning about their interests outside of the classroom. To encourage them, Davis clips clothespins onto the backpacks of students who she feels went out of their way to be kind or to help someone else. The clothespins also serve to help students remember other good things they have accomplished. “It’s just that reminder, even when they go home, that someone’s there and someone cares,” Davis explained.
Davis also encourages her students to recognize their classmates’ efforts to be kind and supportive. They can do this by nominating a peer whom they have observed being kind to others to sit at the classroom’s VIP Table for the week. Davis allows each VIP student to choose a friend to sit with them at the VIP Table. She has been inspired as she has seen many of her students look out for each other as they notice and nominate classmates who have not yet had a chance to sit at the VIP Table.
Teachers at Lincoln Elementary describe Davis as welcoming, caring, organized, and exceptionally patient. “Charlotte's love of learning reaches into the hearts of her students,” observed Linda Marble, a speech pathologist at the school. “She expects a lot from them, but has great empathy for those students who struggle with academics, social skills, or emotional problems.”
Before teaching in Cache County School District, Davis taught in Grand County in Moab. She has now been teaching at Lincoln Elementary for three years–in fact, she taught some of her current students for each of those three years. When she started at Lincoln, she taught third grade, then fourth, and now fifth. She has enjoyed seeing her students’ progress over the years and the opportunity to continuously celebrate their triumphs with them.
Degrees and Certifications:
Millville Elementary: Brittany Wall
When Brittany Wall was a student in elementary school, you could often find her staying late to help teachers clean their chalkboards and erasers. She constantly played school with her brothers because school was her favorite place to be. She loved her teachers and wanted to emulate the example they were to her, when she grew up. She was deeply impacted by a high school teacher who went above and beyond to make sure she was successful during some of her most challenging times. These life experiences shaped the teacher she has now become and she has been chosen to be Millville Elementary’s Teacher of the Year!
As a teacher, Wall strives to see the potential of her students and works tirelessly to help them see it. “Every student is capable of learning,” she explained. “They just need someone to help them understand and find that part of themselves.” She also focuses on helping her students to feel confident in their abilities to take on challenges and solve problems with a growth mindset.
Along with problem-solving, Wall believes that it is incredibly important for students to take responsibility for their learning. Fifth and sixth grade is the age where many things change and evolve. Students start to learn how to rely less on their parents or guardians when it comes to homework and turning assignments in on time. Wall emphasizes the importance of staying organized and doing small things every day, such as writing in a planner, to help them take charge of their education.
Principal Brady Johnson appreciates that Wall is eager to help in any situation, whether it is volunteering, mentoring USU practicum students, or just helping out her colleagues. “She is full of great ideas and works tirelessly to implement those ideas to the betterment of staff and students alike,” Johnson said. “Her students love and trust her. She has created a culture in her classroom of acceptance and respect. Students feel comfortable to try new things and reach for the high expectations set for them by Mrs. Wall.”
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Mountain Crest High School: Megan Haslam
Agricultural science teacher, Megan Haslam, believes that many students are far enough removed from the farm that they don’t have many chances to have hands-on agricultural experiences at home. For this reason, she strives to help her students have opportunities to develop skills that will help them be successful in life. Her efforts to engage students in agricultural experiences have made an impact—so much so, that she has been named Mountain Crest High School's Teacher of the Year.
Mountain Crest offers a variety of ag science courses. Haslam teaches animal science, floral design, and greenhouse management. She enjoys her students' excitement as they learn about where their food comes from and as they express their pride in knowing their plants are growing. Through these hands-on lessons, she has seen her students make real-world connections that they will carry forward beyond high school.
In addition to tending a greenhouse, Haslam’s students also learn how to be good consumers who are financially savvy. She hopes the lessons they learn will impact them in their future lives and careers. For example, in her floral design class, students finish the class with enough knowledge to start their own floral design business if they desire. “A lot of these skills are life skills that you can use, but also I love that they can build something and see the effect of what they built.”
At Mountain Crest, Haslam is also a Future Farmers of America (FFA) advisor. FFA is a club that teaches students valuable leadership skills through agriculture. Students have a range of categories they can compete in, from raising animals to agriculture communications. The community provides essential support to students in FFA. For instance, Mountain Crest has partnered with local community members to raise dairy heifers on their property. If a student wants to learn how to raise a calf but doesn’t have the space or money to get started, several community members allow students to keep heifers on their property. They also help educate the students on how to raise and care for the animals.
FFA Students also participate in public speaking, such as Prepared Public Speaking, Extemporaneous Public Speaking, and Parliamentary Procedures. Students research current events in agriculture, develop talking points and counterpoints, as well as learn to run an effective public meeting.
The variety and real-world experiences her students get from FFA and ag classes are two of the reasons Haslam loves her job. “It doesn’t matter what category they are in,” Haslam explained. “We are trying to teach them to think critically and judge things and defend themselves about it and communicate why this matters.”
Haslam’s goal is to make sure that her students know how much she cares for them. She also values teaching her students life lessons that will help them be successful after high school. Mountain Crest principal Teri Cutler believes that Haslam is an excellent example of what a teacher should be. “She is always going the extra mile for students, from educational aspects to competition aspects to mentoring students on how to be strong individuals—Megan always strives to do what is best for her students,” Cutler observed. “All ag teachers across the state look to her as an example."
Degrees and Certifications:
Mountainside Elementary: Megan Robertson
Working with students with disabilities has intrigued Mountainside Elementary Teacher of the Year, Megan Robertson, ever since she was in high school. During those years, Robertson was a peer tutor and participated in a class where students work in Life Skills classrooms. That experience impacted her greatly, and she continued to discover the joys of working with students with disabilities when she taught swimming lessons to students with adapted needs.
Robertson’s experiences from high school led her down her current career path as a Special Education teacher. She is currently in her fifth year of teaching at Mountainside Elementary, where she is particularly thankful for the support from and collaboration with her peers and aides. She has seen herself grow as a teacher throughout the past several years—from trying to do everything for herself to learning the powerful synergy of working with others and allowing them to help out.
In her classroom, students learn the same things as students in a general education classroom, such as math, reading, science, etc., but adapted to their skill sets and abilities. Robertson is a firm believer in the importance of honoring the individuality of each child as they learn and grow. “All kids are going to make progress on their own timelines,” she explained. “We need to look at each kid individually and make sure we are evaluating their progress based on their own performance and not against everyone else.”
Robertson believes that she has the best job in the world. “If you start to spend time around kids with disabilities, they change who you are as a person,” she expressed. “They're so kind and so sweet!”
Cam Amott, the principal at Mountainside, describes Robertson as an incredible leader who is always willing to share her expertise and help out as needs arise. “Megan loves her students like they are her own. She dedicates so much time and energy to making sure her students have the support and services that they need to be successful,” Amott adds. “She is a true example of what it means to be an advocate for your students. Go spend five minutes in her classroom and you will gain a great respect for her and her job.”
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Nibley Elementary: Susan Paulsin
Congratulations to Susan Paulsin, who has been chosen to be Nibley Elementary’s Teacher of the Year! As a school counselor, Paulsin has the opportunity to gear her lessons and teaching to individual students' needs. Her primary focus is educating students about behavior, language, thought, and actions. She does monthly lessons in classrooms throughout the school, where students learn about how the brain functions and its role in our emotions.
Paulsin has been a counselor in the district for six years. She spent the first few years at Canyon Elementary and then moved to Birch Creek Elementary before working at Nibley. However, Paulsin is not only a school counselor. She also helps with the TAG team, and the safety committee, and advises the Kindness Crew.
The Kindness Crew is a voluntary program for sixth graders to help spread, encourage, and show kindness to their peers. Paulsin got the idea from a counselor at another school where the program has done incredibly well. Students sign up to help spread kindness by running food drives and diaper drives, putting together activities for their peers, organizing events such as carnivals and kindness raps, and learning essential leadership skills.
Paulsin emphasizes that if a person gives kindness, they will receive kindness in return. “When you choose to be kind, you have no idea what that person's story is,” Paulsin explains. “If you knew their story, it might be easier to make a better choice, but not knowing their story should make it even easier.” She also knows that teaching students how to recognize their own emotions and what is going on inside of them will help them be kind and empathetic towards others.
To help students learn to regulate their emotions, Paulsin does various activities that teach them about their emotions and how to recognize what they are feeling. When students understand how they are feeling, they can learn how to manage their emotions better. A few of these activities include chair yoga, bubble breathing, and moments of mindfulness.
For chair yoga, Paulsin visits classrooms to lead students in a five-minute activity where they focus on stretches they can do while sitting down. Students get their wiggles out and learn stretches that will help relax their bodies without disrupting others around them. Bubble blowing is a technique Paulsin teaches where you practice taking in deep breaths, expanding the lungs, and pretending you are blowing big bubbles. She also leads guided imagery and retaliation with music as part of her moments of mindfulness. Paulsin’s goal with these activities is to help students learn techniques to calm themselves down before letting their emotions get the best of them.
Principal Paula Hull describes Paulsin as a compassionate counselor who is always willing to lend a listening ear to students and faculty. “When it is essential for a student to see [Paulsin] (family loss, divorce, behavior issues, and many others), she makes time in her schedule to see them. Her door is open to ideas about small student groups to help them with difficulties such as interacting with friends, anger management, and fear,” Hull observed. “Susan is an integral part of the success at our school. She exemplifies the qualities that qualify her for this honor.”
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North Cache Middle School: Mike Summers
North Cache Middle School’s Teacher of the Year, Mike Summers, loves school so much he wishes he could have studied every major at USU. In fact, if he could, he would be a professional student for the rest of his life! This passion for learning is what motivated him to become a teacher.
Summers, who was born and raised in Cache Valley, has taught special education and Language Arts at North Cache Middle School for seven years. Because Summers remembers his own middle school years as some of the most challenging years of his adolescence, he strives to become the middle school teacher he would have wanted to have. His goal is to ensure that students have at least one person who will give them the support they need. “I’ve always wanted kids to know that they have someone who is absolutely fighting for them,” Summers explained. “That is super important to me.”
Because he enjoys working one-on-one with students who struggle and being a champion for them academically and socially, Summers feels drawn to special education. He focuses daily on meeting the current needs of his students. Although he has always had a lot of compassion towards others, his empathy grows every year as he better understands the challenges his students face.
Kelly Allen, a colleague at North Cache, has worked alongside Summers for three years. She describes him as energetic in his teaching style, genuine, a teacher of high expectations, and welcoming of new learning opportunities. “Mike can handle the most challenging kids with ease and is a champion for the underdog,” Allen said. “He has taught me more about teaching and connecting with students than I have ever learned from any class or formal institution."
Summers believes that teachers have the most essential customer service job in the world. The customers are the students and the services are everything a teacher does. “The product you provide is possibly one of the most important services that can be rendered in the entire free world,” Summer explained. “We are offering the most important service to children—which is literacy. If you look at it from that frame, literacy is what gives us freedom and gives them the opportunity to be successful, to protect themselves, and to communicate.”
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North Park Elementary: Billye Sue White
Life can be challenging. Changes bring uncertainty and can be scary. That is why Billye Sue White always encourages her second-grade students to “See the good, be the good.” White's students cheer together every morning and again at the end of the school day, “See the good, be the good, ready set go!” White explained that the purpose of this cheer is to help encourage her students to see the good in other people every day and to be the good in the world.
Throughout her 18 years of teaching, White has had the opportunity to attend many training sessions on being trauma-informed. These trainings have helped her understand her students better and discover ways to help ease the stress of school and homework. She strives to do this by reminding her students that they can push through and do difficult things. Because of reminders like their classroom cheer, the second grade classroom feels like a family—in a positive environment where students feel safe with each other and feel the support from their peers. At the end of each year, White gives each student a “hug blanket.” Students take time to hug each other’s blankets so that later, when a student is having a rough time, they can wrap the blanket around their shoulders and and feel a hug from Mrs. White and the rest of their classmates.
White focuses on teaching her students the social skills necessary to create a classroom family, such as how to be a good friend, how to respond appropriately when they’ve made a mistake, how to learn from mistakes, and to understand that it’s okay to make mistakes. Along with learning academics, these social skills are life lessons that help students communicate their feelings and to see their potential. “My goal is to help them succeed at life,” White explained. “Not just on a test, not just in my classroom—but to move forward with confidence.”
White is also passionate about teaching her students to be lifelong learners because learning doesn’t stop when you move grades or graduate; you will always be learning from lessons. Students can earn class money by following class rules, helping others, and being in leadership positions. When the students earn coins, they can put them towards a classroom party or they can trade them in for a story from Mrs. White. White will tell the class a story of some of the vacations she’s been on or stories about her family. She uses this opportunity to share the lessons she’s learned and build positive connections with her students. “There are so many ways other than just academics that kids need help,” White added. “If you have that relationship, you’re able to make a difference and influence them.”
Principal Jullie Payne appreciates the hard work and dedication White puts into teaching. “Billye Sue holds high expectations for her students and forms positive relationships with them that extends beyond the time she’s assigned as their teacher,” Payne observed. “They know she cares about their personal and academic success. Billye Sue is an active part of the school community, often finding ways to offer words of encouragement and support to her colleagues.”
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Providence Elementary: Laura Craner
Laura Craner lives by the saying, “Be a nice human.” She frequently reminds her students how important it is to be kind to everybody because she believes that an essential part of education is to create an environment where students will thrive. When students feel comfortable, safe, and valued, they more easily learn skills that will help them become successful adults.
Treating people with kindness and being a nice human starts with setting boundaries. Craner expressed how negotiating boundaries is essential to her sixth graders because it allows them to know what is and is not acceptable in a classroom and in life. Although it can be challenging to set boundaries, once they are established, Craner is able to not only be her students’ friend and teacher but also to motivate and encourage each student to achieve their potential.
Craner enjoys teaching many subjects, but she has a special place in her heart for Language Arts and science. As an undergrad at Utah State University, she studied literature and now continues to see the value that reading and writing have on students. “Language Arts is the foundation for success,” she explained. Her belief is that, when students understand how to critically think and process the world around them, they are able to go further in life because they know how to express themselves and continue to set their own boundaries.
Craner enjoys the creative process that comes with Language Arts and finds that same joy in teaching science. She received her STEM endorsement several years ago and has been teaching the design and engineering process as part of the curriculum. Her students are currently working on a project where they create hot air balloons made out of tissue paper. The project demonstrates how air masses are created and how hot and cold air mixed together lifts hot air balloons.
For the project, students first make a hot air balloon using a plastic grocery bag. With a hairdryer, they fill the bag with hot air and watch it rise. The students then brainstorm ideas of how to improve their grocery bag hot air balloons. The next step is to use their critical thinking skills to create a second hot air balloon model using pieces of paper. Each student presents their design to the class, troubleshoots problems, and makes improvements to their peers' models. Craner approves the designs and provides the supplies to create a larger scale hot air balloon using tissue paper. Once her students have completed their final models, Craner will take the tissue hot air balloons outside and fill them with hot air so the students can see how high they float. Hands-on activities like this one are creative and fun and help students to stay engaged in the learning process, even as the school year winds down.
“Laura dedicates so much of her time to the school and her students,” Providence principal Jeff Keck observed. “It is clear that her students love her. It’s easy to see that she makes learning fun and interesting. Laura is just an amazing person! She is always willing to put in 100% for whatever assignment she is given. She maintains a supportive and positive attitude at all times and is a strong contributor to the culture of our school.”
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Ridgeline High School: Joseph Johnson
Congratulations to Joseph Johnson, Ridgeline High School’s Teacher of the Year! Johnson has been teaching at Ridgeline for five years, where he started out teaching social studies, but over the years, has moved toward teaching various business classes. He also works with Ridgeline’s student council. Johnson attended Ensign College, formally known as LDS Business College, with his wife, where he studied business management. He found his love for teaching when he had the opportunity to teach a business class at Ensign College as part of his curriculum.
Johnson and his wife moved to Cache Valley, where they both attended Utah State and now currently teach in the district. Outside of his classroom, you can find Johnson playing LEGOs with his two boys. “They are like my best buds,” Johnson beamed. “That’s where my joy in life is—at home with my family and two boys.”
Johnson believes that learning about leadership, business, and personal finance is essential for all of the students at Ridgeline and that they will be more successful in life when they have an idea of their future. In Johnson’s class, students create five-year financial plans to guide them through high school. Johnson also actively helps students to find internships, qualify for scholarships, and excel in leadership positions.
Teaching students to love learning is an essential focus in Johnson’s teaching methods. He believes that when students desire to continuously learn throughout their lives, they will know how to be successful because they will know how to learn on their own. “If we can teach students to love learning—if we can do that as teachers, we’ve succeeded because these students will leave here with that desire and any skill they need to be successful in life.”
Ridgeline students love Johnson. Several commented on the effort that Johnson puts into his lessons, even when the topics are not very exciting. They appreciate how Johnson goes the extra mile to ensure that they can relate to the concepts and understand the material. “My favorite thing about Mr. Johnson is that he is so happy and brings a happy environment to what he teaches,” Isaac, a senior at Ridgeline, explained. “He makes me really enjoy what he teaches.”
Another student, Ava, described the impact of how Johnson acknowledges his students’ efforts. “He’s really good at recognizing his students’ work and knowing how hard they work,” She described. “That’s very validating.” Katie appreciates how Johnson is friendly and makes a daily effort to connect with both students and other teachers. “He stands out in the hallways between classes and greets everyone,” she added. “If you are having a bad day, he checks up on you, and he’s good to joke with everyone.”
During the January 27th board meeting where Johnson was honored, Ridgeline’s Principal, Doug Snow, recalled one of his first interactions with Johnson, when he asked him to help organize a leadership event on a short timeline. “I sent one text to Joe, and the student council kids showed up, they helped plan it, they ran it. To me, it just goes to show the relationship that he was able to build—that on a moment’s notice he could gather those kids together to pull off that amazing retreat. It speaks volumes.”
Snow went on to describe some of Johnson’s attributes and abilities which were mentioned by students who nominated him for Teacher of the Year. In addition to being an excellent classroom teacher, they credited Johnson for his positive attitude, high energy, and passion for the subjects he teaches. They acknowledged how much he cares for his students, supports the student council, and is dedicated to making a difference at Ridgeline. Snow quoted one student as saying, “When I grow up, I want to be just like Joe.”
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River Heights Elementary: Breauna Jelke
Jelke is from Shelley, Idaho, and has been teaching at River Heights Elementary for ten years. After graduating from Utah State University, she began teaching at Nibley Elementary. Then, she taught at Sunrise Elementary before moving to River Heights Elementary.
When Jelke first started teaching, she knew she wanted to teach younger grades because she loves the enthusiasm and energy of kindergartners. Her favorite part about teaching kindergarten is seeing her students progress throughout the year. She loves helping her students progress from not knowing how to hold a pencil at the beginning of the year to writing stories and learning to read and socialize with their peers.
Jelke strongly believes in mixing fun with education. When you walk into her classroom, you feel like you have just entered a pirate ship. There are palm trees and pirate flags in the reading nook. Tying into the pirate ship theme, Jelke emphasizes to her students that they all need each other as part of a crew. “It’s just neat to see them start to cheer each other on,” Jelke explained. “There’s the sense of adventure and exploration. I think there’s a lot of that in education—that sense of wanting to explore new things and try more things and search for treasures.”
On the first day of school, Jelke’s students make pirate hats and spy glasses and explore the school. As they meet the principal and the librarian, they discover that treasure is not necessarily gold and jewels, but it can be people and places throughout the school. “You create an environment where we’re all working together, and we are all part of that crew, and learning just comes naturally,” Jelke observes.
Every week, a student in the class has the opportunity to be the VIP or “Very Important Pirate.” The VIP makes a paper representation of himself or herself, along with their very own pirate flag, and Jelke assigns them special jobs throughout the week, such as line leader. On Friday, the VIP gets to choose a pirate hat before walking across a balance beam while their peers cheer them on as they “walk the plank.” Jelke then spotlights them as a fun way for their peers to get to know their classmates.
To ensure that students continue to seek adventure and try new things, Jelke makes a point of teaching her students that mistakes are normal and that everybody makes mistakes. Jelke points out her own mistakes and teaches students how they help her fix them. She assures them that she is always there to help them when they make a mistake. When students understand that they can make mistakes, they are more willing to try new things and take leaps, knowing that it is all part of the journey.
River Heights Elementary principal, Stephanie Adams, described Jelke as someone who impacts other teachers, as well as the school community. “One of the biggest telltale signs of the impact a teacher has on a child is what happens on Back to School Night,” Adams said. “When, instead of going to their new teachers' classroom, they go to their kindergarten classroom to hang out with their kindergarten teacher again, because that is the place where they really felt the magic of school. And that happens in her room—her kids absolutely love being in school every day as they get that foundation for their education.”
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Sky View High School: Joylynn Gonzales
“Joy” is not only part of the first name of Sky View High School’s 2021-22 Teacher of the Year—it’s an essential part of her teaching philosophy. “There should be joy in the classroom,” Joylynn Gonzales explained. “Whether that is what we are reading or the connections they are making—it’s the whole idea of joy and interaction.”
Gonzales, who has been teaching ninth-grade English literature and English writing at Sky View for four years, also strives to build and maintain personal relationships with her students. At the beginning of each year, she ensures that she and every student knows each other's names. They do this by taking the first two weeks to learn and practice everyone’s names. Then, they have a quiz on the seating chart, where they have to fill in the students' names. The catch is, if Gonzales fails the name test, every student will get 100 percent! Gonzales believes that when students learn each other’s names, they feel more comfortable sharing experiences and making connections with the materials they are learning.
Visiting Gonzales’ classroom and observing her interaction with students, it’s clear that they have a playful, easy relationship. Cayden, a sophomore, appreciates the way Gonzales connects with her students. “She's a fun teacher—she is a really good teacher,” Cayden explained.
Other students describe Gonzales as caring, interactive, and “a cool person to be around.” Jasmine, a former student, remembered how Gonzales would always encourage her to grow from her mistakes. “She helped me get out of my head and realize I’m thinking about it too much,” Jasmine added. “If you need help, she will help you.”
Many of Gonzales’ current and past students feel comfortable enough to stop by her classroom to say hi, joke with her, and spend their lunch hour in her room. “My classroom is just as much a home as anything else,” Gonzales observed. “They spend an hour here every day and I spend my whole day here so this should be a homey place.”
Principal Michael Monson describes Gonzales as a passionate teacher who is a great role model for her students and is well-respected by her colleagues. “Her first name ‘Joy’ is what she exudes,” Monson explained. “I have met many wonderful teachers, but I must say, Joylynn is the epitome of enthusiasm, joy, and vibrancy.”
Gonzales grew up in West Valley and has lived in Logan ever since she started attending Utah State University. She has taught at several schools throughout the valley and the state of Utah, including North Cache, Spring Creek, and Brockbank Middle Schools, and Cottonwood High School.
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South Cache Middle School: Andrea Talbot
Congratulations to Andrea Talbot for being named South Cache Middle School's 2021-22 Teacher of the Year! Talbot’s goal is to make her classroom a place where students can come and take an hour to reprieve from a difficult or stressful day. She knows that middle school can be challenging for students as they are transitioning from elementary school. “If I can bring students a moment of solace and some grounding to help them feel comfortable...then that’s a win for me,” Talbot explained. Every day, she strives to be the middle school teacher she would have liked to have.
Walking into her classroom, students know exactly what to expect. Talbot works hard to create a place of structure where there aren’t too many loops thrown their way; students know what will be happening every day—if they will have a test or homework due and what is expected of them. Talbot’s students understand and respect the boundaries she sets in her classroom.
Even though learning should be taken seriously, Talbot also believes that a sense of humor can go a long way in creating an engaging educational environment. Her mantra is, “If I’m not having fun in my classroom, they’re not having fun in my classroom.” She makes sure to have fun and joke with students occasionally.
Before coming to Cache Valley, Talbot spent most of her life in Idaho. She attended college at Utah State University, where she eventually met her husband. Once they married, the couple moved back to Idaho. Talbot treasures her family and the time she can spend with them. She found her way into teaching middle school when a position opened up in the middle school her kids were attending. Talbot is now entering her eighth year of teaching and her third year at South Cache as a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher.
South Cache principal Randy Bennion met with Talbot when she first moved to Cache Valley and knew she would be a fabulous addition to the district. Bennion describes Talbot as down-to-earth, humorous, dedicated, a master teacher, and a leader at South Cache. “She is amazing,” Bennion explained. “We are so lucky to have her!”
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Spring Creek Middle School: Cece Craner
Craner has taught English Language Arts, Choir, and 7th- and 8th- grade English Language Learners for eight years. Craner comes from a family of teachers and has been influenced by her mother and father who were her own high school teachers. She loves the way they made teaching exciting and engaging. “I have two bachelors and masters, and my parents are still the best teachers I’ve had,” Craner explained. “They are the people who shaped me.”
Throughout the hall of Spring Creek, you will find the phrase “Chase perfection, but catch excellence.” Craner has shaped her philosophy of high expectations and high love from this phrase. Having high expectations for her students is important to Craner because she has seen how they push students to be a little better every day. “Every student can learn and grow,” Craner added. “High expectations can bring everybody up as close as we can to that [high level].”
Craner has a great passion for musical theater and dance. After school, you can find Craner teaching ballet, tap, pointe, and jazz at Cece’s Xtravadance Company. Almost everything she does revolves around music, theater, and Shakespeare, even down to her Shakespearean-themed classroom. Craner loves Shakespeare—she adores how his stories are funny and entertaining, and every single one of them is written in iambic pentameter.
Her love of Shakespeare is what motivates her to expose her students to as much Shakespeare as possible. Every Friday, students will read and analyze sonnets and other forms of poetry to expand their minds and deepen their understanding. Craner acknowledged that Shakespeare isn’t taught as much as it used to be in high schools, but that doesn’t stop her from sharing her passion for theater and poetry with her students.
”Cece is so positive! She is constantly encouraging her students to give their best efforts. She is our resident cheerleader,” Principal Blair Powell said. “During our online learning, every day, she dressed up as a different character. Her enthusiasm and creativity are infectious and help create a great culture in our school.”
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Summit Elementary: Mindy Dahle
Many students have their first experience with the “real world” in kindergarten. They make connections and begin to piece together and find patterns in the world around them. This is one of the reasons why Summit’s Teacher of the Year, Mindy Dahle, loves teaching kindergarten. She has spent 15 years teaching Kindergarten. She started her career at Sunrise Elementary and has been at Summit Elementary for 12 years.
Dahle teaches her class to treat everyone with respect. “You have to build a class community,” Dahle explained. “When we are here at school, we’re a family, and we have to take care of each other.” When her students understand this, they understand that they are loved not just by Mrs. Dahle but also by their peers.
Child development has always fascinated Dahle. She appreciates seeing a child light up when they figure out problems and have things click in their minds. It’s not just seeing those lights come on academically, but Dahle also loves to see her students progress socially. This is why she loves teaching math and science. While teaching math, she uses manipulatives, which are physical things such as counting bears, counting chips, blocks, or tangrams. This helps the students with counting and number sense instead of only writing it down on the board.
Every August, Dahle goes up into the mountains and searches for caterpillars for her science unit on life cycles. Utah is right in the path of Monarch butterfly migration. Monarch butterflies will migrate from Mexico to Canada throughout a few life cycles, and Dahle makes sure to take advantage of the wonderful teaching opportunity. Students get to watch the caterpillars spin chrysalises and turn into beautiful butterflies over time. Teaching life cycles this way allows students to see and learn differently.
Dahle uses these methods of teaching because she understands that every child learns differently. Some students learn through listening or seeing, while others learn from hands-on activities. Dahle’s philosophy is to provide every student with an opportunity to learn and grow. “You have to embrace every child where they’re at and celebrate success even if it’s just itty bitty,” Dahle added.
Meeting individual needs is essential, but sometimes it can be hard to know those specific needs. To ensure that every child’s needs are met, Dahle prioritizes keeping in touch with her students’ parents. She makes sure to be easily accessible to parents if they have any questions or concerns about their child. This way, she can touch base and make sure every child is getting what they need.
“Mindy is a remarkable person. She is gracious, giving, and kind. Whether you are a student, a parent, or a colleague, Mindy makes you feel important and valued,” Summit principal Aimee McNeil observed. “You can’t help but feel a boost in your self-confidence when you’re around her. Summit Elementary is fortunate to have Mindy as a teacher, colleague, and friend.”
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Sunrise Elementary: Monica Carter
Monica Carter fell in love with teaching while attending Utah State University. Before discovering her passion for teaching, Carter wanted to be a pediatric nurse and make a difference in the lives of others. After taking several different classes in college, she realized that she could make an equally important impact as a teacher.
Carter is from West Wendover, Nevada, and moved up to Cache Valley to attend Utah State. She has taught fourth grade at Sunrise for four years. Carter appreciates how USU prepared her to be in the classroom by allowing students to gain experience teaching throughout all four years of college.
Carter taught grades K-2 during her time at USU, but taught fourth grade as a student-teacher. She discovered she enjoys teaching slightly older students because they could comprehend her jokes and she could be herself around them. Carter sees her students open up and feel comfortable being themselves after they see her be herself. “When they [students] form a connection with their teacher or other peers, it makes a difference in their learning,” Carter explained. “Then we can have good classroom management, but we can also joke around and learn.”
On Carter’s door, you can find one of her classroom themes, “Advice from a Cactus.” It reminds students to stay sharp, get plenty of sunshine, conserve their resources, don’t desert their friends, be patient through dry spells, accentuate strong points, and wait for their time to bloom. Another theme that is found around Carter’s classroom is Baby Yoda. These engaging themes help connect Carter to her students and help her discover her student's interests and joys in life.
Another way Carter makes connections with her students is by standing outside of her classroom every morning to greet current, past, and future students. Interacting with students first thing in the morning is important to Carter because she can continue building connections with other students at Sunrise Elementary and see which of her current students may be having a hard morning or need extra support throughout the day.
Principal Derek Beer observes Carter’s efforts to always keep her students’ best interests in mind. "Monica has a great outlook on teaching,” Beer said. “She takes the necessary time to build relationships with every student. She constantly evaluates what her students need and changes her instruction model to fit that need.”
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Wellsville Elementary: Ange Johnson
Ange Johnson is in her fifth year of teaching sixth grade at Wellsville Elementary and loves every minute of it. Teaching is a shared passion in her family–in fact, her husband, Joseph Johnson was also honored this year, as Ridgeline High School’s Teacher of the Year! When Johnson was attending Ensign College, formally known as LDS Business College, she was studying in the medical field until she had an extraordinary math teacher who taught students to love a subject that was mostly hated. Johnson started to consider a change in career paths—she wanted to teach kids to love what they learn.
As she considered becoming a teacher, Johnson wrestled with the idea because she knew it would be a hard goodbye at the end of every year. Throughout her time at Wellsville, however, she has learned to cherish her students while she has them and then let them go when it is their time to move on. Even though it doesn’t make goodbyes any less challenging, Johnson loves to watch her students spread their wings and soar in middle school.
Since middle school can be intimidating for many sixth-graders, Johnson focuses on helping students have a positive mindset to encourage them and teach them who they are. At the beginning of the school year, she has her class read books explaining affirmations and then work together to develop three affirmations that will help them focus their learning and elevate their mindset. Every morning, Johnson takes five minutes with the students to meditate and recite their daily affirmations, tapping into the power of positivity. The current classroom affirmations are: “I am my best self”; “I will stand tall”; and “I am loved.”
Johnson believes that each student has an amazing amount of strength within and if they can tap into that power and realize for themselves what those strengths are, they will have more confidence in their abilities. “I always tell them, ‘If you know who you are, it doesn’t matter what people think of you,’” she explained. “If we can create that positive self-talk within us, we can do anything—if we believe in ourselves.”
Principal Glen Harris describes Johnson as kind, friendly, fun, innovative, and an effective teacher. “Mrs. Johnson is a hard-working teacher that is always seeking for ways for her students to learn at their best,” he observed. “Not only does she excel in her classroom instruction, but she also excels in these outside educational pursuits as well.” Johnson is currently working on her master’s degree in administration, hoping to be a principal one day. Johnson is also Wellsville’s afterschool director and the school’s Teacher Assistance and Guidance Team chairperson.
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White Pine Elementary: Sherida Palmer
Sitting in her rocking chair in the classroom reading corner, Sherida Palmer, White Pine Elementary Teacher of the Year, strives to teach her students that they can become whoever and whatever they want to be.
“They can be as great as they want to be as long as they're willing to put forth that effort. It's all up to them who they become,” Palmer explains. “They have all the power in the world to be that. So I tell them that all the time: ‘You guys are so amazing. You can do whatever you want.’”
Every day, the class gathers in the reading corner and talks about the different traits of an outstanding second grader. They focus on words such as creative, brave, loved, worthy, and many more. Palmer defines each word and the class discusses what that word means to them and how they can recognize those qualities in themselves. This is just one way Palmer helps her students realize their potential.
Palmer appreciates that all of her students are unique and have individual needs, making them special. Because of this, her teaching style is all about adapting to the individual students in her class. She strives to adjust her lessons and class activities based on her students’ interests and skill levels as often as needed so her students can succeed. “Everyone learns differently. I learn differently than you learn,” Palmer explained. “So I need to find what is going to help them learn whatever it is that they're needing to be taught. If one way isn't getting in, and they're not fully understanding that, then I have to change.”
Palmer loves to incorporate two of her passions, singing, and reading, into her teaching. She uses singing during transitions to help students move to the next activity. She also uses songs to help students remember the things they are learning. She describes the reading corner as the most important part of her classroom. When students finish their work early, Palmer encourages them to grab a good book, find a comfy chair, and settle in to read a little.
Outside of her classroom, Palmer continues to look for ways to be involved and help students at White Pine Elementary. Palmer works in the learning lab before and after school, working with second graders according to their individual learning needs. She also supports the school by chairing the TAG (Teacher Assistance and Guidance) committee. According to Principal Shellie Healy, this requires extra time in corresponding with teachers, scheduling meetings, and creating notes to be used as a follow-up to help meet student needs. In addition, Palmer frequently volunteers and participates in staff meetings, assemblies, and other school activities.
Healy appreciates Palmer's hard work and dedication to her students and teaching. “Sherida is an excellent teacher. She strives to target individual learning in a creative way,” Healy observed. “She never hesitates to help out where needed. Sherida exemplifies the best of White Pine.”