Andrea Mathews is amazed by the crackling creative energy of her students.
And she delights in talking about the stories concocted by her students at Washington School District's Sandstone Elementary in St. George.
"It's neat to see how they write, what they write," Mathews said. "They are so creative, even as first-graders."
One of Mathews' job perks is watching a student learn to read. She works a lot with books in her class — and she reads with them, out loud, helping children see and learn words.
And once children learn to string the letters together to form words — and then understand the meaning of those words — they can start to pen stories and letters.
Mathews has been a teacher for 15 years in Washington, Iron and Tooele counties. She's a veteran of the classroom.
But she wanted to improve her skills as a teacher.
That's why she entered a program to earn a national certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Teachers who successfully finish the program are considered "master teachers." Only 13 others in Utah — and 16,000 across the country — have earned master-teacher status.
"I just wanted a challenge," she said. While working on the certification, she found that teachers should have high expectations. Children will respond, she says.
"I don't think we give students the credit for what they are able to accomplish," she said.
Principal Neil Cottam says Mathews is wary of the publicity she's received in newspapers and PTA newsletters about earning the national certificate.
"She doesn't want parents or other teachers to think she thinks she knows everything," he said. "And that's part of a master teacher."
Cottam said Mathews is among those "who just have it" — that special gift of knowing how to inspire children to learn.
There are teachers, he said, who have wonderful teaching techniques — but struggle to connect with their students.
Not Mathews. "She's wonderful," he said.