The classroom buzzed with energetic little faces. One boy sat alone at a table, carefully placing block after block on a plastic tower. Sud-denly, a touch shakes the building and it falls apart. The boy slumps sadly in his chair.
"Don't get disappointed," said his first-grade teacher, Pam Walter, who was hovering nearby. "Some-times things do fall down."
Walter's tender and patient approach to teaching has sparked notice from more than her students at Strawberry Park Elementary School. The Steamboat Springs School Board announced May 19 that Walter is the Steamboat Springs School District Teacher of the Year.
Walter's interaction with her first-grade students is evidence of her "curiosity-directed" approach.
"Try to make your body move to the sounds you hear," Walter said, as she turned on a cassette tape of noises. She then proceeded to bounce, act like a mouse, and gallop around the classroom with the students.
"She's an excellent teacher who is very flexible," said Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis, who nominated Walter for the honor.
DeVincentis said he nominated Walter specifically because of her outstanding work with special-needs children, who are integrated into standard classes at Strawberry Park.
"Pam is the perfect example of interaction you would want when these kids are in the classroom," DeVincentis said. "She's an example for any regular classroom teacher who has a student with special needs."
Walter said her special-needs students only add more to her classroom.
"Including students with special needs is the better way to go," Walter said. "I work on teaching them (my students) about diversity."
Walter, a native of Southern California, has been teaching elementary school for 24 years.
"There's never a dull moment," she said.
Walter also believes that having two children of her own has enriched her teaching.
In her classroom, the crowd of 6- and 7-year-olds responds well to her playful antics. But the students also respectfully follow "Mrs. Pam's" instructions when they are given.
Walter is quick to pass the credit for her award on to her peers.
"It's the people around you," she said, noting that without the other teachers, aides, administration and janitors at Strawberry Park, her job wouldn't be possible.
Throughout her career, Walter said she has seen changes in the education system and she feels most have been positive.
"We have raised the expectations for kids," she said. "We can set high goals, and we can help kids reach those expectations."
Walter said she was honored by her nomination from DeVincentis.
Because she was chosen as the Steamboat Springs School District's Teacher of the Year, Walter is eligible for the Colorado State Board of Education Teacher of the Year Award, which will be announced later in the year.
Marty O'Leary from Soda Creek Elementary School, Heidi Chapman from Steamboat Springs Middle School and Shirley Belz from Steamboat Springs High School also were nominated for Teacher of the Year.
"(Walter) represents all classroom and special education resource teachers and support staff who have worked so diligently, with dedication and perseverance, to enable all children to reach their greatest potential while leaving no child behind," DeVincentis wrote of Walter in his nomination letter.
Walter, who recently received her master's degree in elementary education, said she loves teaching because children allow her to continue to learn everyday.
"Children offer us more than we could ever dream for," she said.
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