As her presenter read comments from Lauren Mullen's peers, Mullen looked nervous.
"It's really kind of scary to think that I'll be representing all the teachers in the district," Mullen said.Mullen, the Salt Lake City School District's Teacher of the Year, was presented to the district's school board Tuesday night.
While she didn't appear comfortable with the accolades coming from her peers, a smile crept across her face when her presenter read comments from her students.
The fifth-grade teacher from Jackson Elementary, an at-risk school whose area straddles I-15 from 200 South to 600 North, is in it for the kids.
"I enjoy (teaching) a lot or I wouldn't be here," she said.
Marilyn Phillips, principal at Jackson Elementary, agreed that Mullen's motivation is her students.
Every year, Mullen's fifth-grade class puts on a performance based on the U.S. history lessons they've learned all year.
"They've really learned history the right way," Phillips said. "They live it and they breathe it."
"She integrates everything into the curriculum," Phillips said. While teaching a literature lesson, for example, Mullen will use music and art from the piece's period to give literature some perspective.
It was a benevolent twist of fate that gave Mullen the opportunity to plug her favorite program at the board meeting Tuesday night.
Mullen's students opened the meeting by playing three short pieces on their violins. As Mullen addressed the board about being Teacher of the Year, she urged the board to continue the funding that allows her students and every student at Jackson to play a musical instrument.
She asked the board to consider the message of a movie as they decided whether to fund the program.
"In `Mr. Holland's Opus,' after 30 years of commitment to music, they honored the man, but they stopped funding the music and fine arts program," she said. "As you honor me this evening, I ask you to please acknowledge the value of this program."
Board members, while not deciding on funding yet, gave Jackson Elementary's music program a high funding priority.
Mullen's is a typical elementary school classroom, with numerous blackboards, bookshelves and cabinets. But her teaching philosophy is anything but typical.
Mullen piloted a program used at Jackson called the collaborative inclusion model. Used this year in grades 4-6, special education students are grouped in class with average and gifted students.
The students, said Mullen, work in groups of six. All groups include special needs students.
"The idea is that they help each other, and in the cooperative groups, that works very well."
"A lot of special-ed kids are very artistic or very strong auditory learners. Their communication skills are higher in other areas than reading or writing."
Without the program, Mullen said, the special ed students wouldn't be integrated with their peers.
"They would be pooled and get a double dose of reading and math, but they would miss what was going on in the classroom. This way, they're exposed to every piece of the curriculum."