"Look at all this," Cindy Gay said with the unabashed enthusiasm of a child, her pointed index finger panning her Steamboat Springs High School science classroom. "It's like a giant playroom."
Endangered razorback suckers swim in an aquarium, a giant wasps' nest hangs from the ceiling, flesh-eating beetles devour the last remains of a frog and a bobcat, aquatic African clawed frogs sit idly in small aquariums and myriad plants encircle Gay's room. It is a place where biology is fun, and fun is learning.
If only everyone enjoyed his or her job as much as Gay loves hers.
"I have the perfect job," she said. "Most of the time, it doesn't even seem like a job. I can't even call it a job."
Gay, in her fifth year at the high school, was recently named Colorado's 2003 Outstanding Biology Teacher by the Colorado Biology Teachers Association, a chapter of the National Biology Teachers Association.
It's not the first time Gay has been recognized for her teaching. Three years ago, she was awarded the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, one of the two most prestigious national awards handed out to teachers.
"It's wonderful to be recognized because I do work really hard," Gay said. "It's a little awkward, though, because I work in an incredible place with incredible biology teachers. We share ideas and work together. It's really not about me as much as it's a reflection on the people I work with and the students I teach. I'm just the one who gets to pick up the toys."
By toys, Gay was referring to the assortment of prizes that come with the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award, including a microscope, binoculars, camera and numerous gift certificates and stipends totaling $3,500.
Gay's journey into science began as a child. She grew up in Glenwood Springs, where she learned to love the outdoors and its various forms of life at an early age.
"There's all sorts of great things happening out there," she said.
Teaching also appeared to come naturally to her, as she used to coerce her brother into playing a student while she played a teacher.
"I guess I've always wanted to be a teacher," Gay said. "This is what I love. It keeps me alive and growing and learning."
Gay said she wants her students to get excited about biology and the living world.
"If they grow to love life and living things, then they're more apt to try to preserve it," she said.
The Colorado Biology Teachers Association will recognize Gay at its spring symposium, to be held Saturday in Denver. She also will be honored at the National Biology Teachers Assoc-iation convention in October in Portland, Ore., and at the Colorado Science Teachers Convention in November.
Gay was nominated by the owner of a microscope company who visited her classroom earlier this year. The man was also a member of the eight-person committee responsible for visiting and observing nominated teachers.
Steamboat Springs High School Principal Dave Schmid called Gay "a great teacher."
"She's very passionate about kids and learning. You get her going on biology and you can see the passion she has for life sciences. She just loves it, and I think the kids kind of feel that," Schmid said. "We're just really fortunate to have a person of that quality in our school, our community and our district."
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