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Ex-firefighter is top teacher

12-year educator wears many hats at S.L. school

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Tim Bailey plays the hero's role.

He could be the hero of the show as an actor in his previous career.

The same undoubtedly goes for his old job as a Murray City firefighter.

But Bailey is perhaps even more a hero as a Washington Elementary fifth-grade teacher. There, he inspires children to study theater. He teaches immigrant youngsters to express themselves in English. He helps teachers become better educators.

For his efforts, the 12-year educator has been crowned the state's 2002 Teacher of the Year and will represent Utah at the national contest. Teachers from 22 of Utah's 40 school districts competed for the honors.

"He deserves it," said Nancy McCormick, principal of Washington Elementary in Salt Lake City. "He's an excellent epitome of a teacher, a dedicated professional."

Bailey does a little bit of everything at the west Capitol Hill school.

He helped develop Salt Lake City School District's tutor-training manual.

He's the school's Olympic liaison. He is certified to teach students with limited English skills — a near necessity in a school where 40 percent of students speak English as a second language.

As the school literacy coordinator, Bailey trained 30 days in California and shares his knowledge with colleagues. Standardized reading test scores increased 42 percent over the past two years, colleague Scott Smith said in a recommendation letter.

The success helps show that professional development is key to creating better teachers and excellent students.

"We talk about the teacher shortage right now. But another thing we really need is the cutting-edge training that is out there," said Bailey, who has adopted professional development as his Teacher of the Year platform.

"Every teacher has strengths. I just think too many get comfortable. I can't say I blame them. It's a very hard job. But you have to be passionate if you want to do it well."

Bailey shares his passion for learning, creativity and curiosity in class.

His students dig for artifacts buried on school grounds to learn about archaeology and science. He lets them pass notes in class, so long as it's in the Viking alphabet.

"They're kids," he said. "The best way they learn is through playing."

Bailey helps students channel their creativity in theater. For the past 10 years, he has coordinated the school's sixth-grade Shakespearean play, which has included "Hamlet," "A Comedy of Errors" and "Taming of the Shrew." He directs the plays, costumes them and puts them on at the Salt Lake Acting Company's stage, lights and all.

His shows sell out, sometimes within 30 minutes. One time, he couldn't even scare up an extra ticket for Jonas Kage, artistic director of Ballet West.

"I think, 'Where are these people coming from? This is an elementary school, not a Broadway play!' " Bailey says with animated hands and a laugh.

But for a moment, the kids feel as if they're in a big-time show. And they never forget it.

Parent Leslie Lewis' daughter got a small part in "Hamlet" years ago.

"She kept coming home with tales about how funny 'Mr. B' was and how comfortable all the Open Classroom (an alternative program at Washington) and main building kids were working together," Lewis wrote in a letter recommending Bailey for Teacher of the Year honors.

"The learning involved in an undertaking such as this encompasses many levels. It's not about regurgitating dates. It's about gaining insight into an era, a man and history and its makers. It's about gaining self-confidence and responsibility to a greater whole."

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com