There were two teachers in Chelsi Ostergaard’s childhood that impacted her psyche in profoundly different ways.

While her sister battled cancer, “my dad had just up and left our family,” she said. At the same time, Chelsi was struggling in school because she has dyslexia.

“I just continued to fall further and further behind in school. I actually had a teacher tell me once that I was stupid and that I would never amount to anything, I had no confidence in myself and felt extremely worthless,” she said.

In the seventh grade, another teacher altered Ostergaard’s trajectory.

“She was my biggest champion and helped me gain confidence and helped improve my education. Because of her, I chose to become a teacher so that I could be the biggest champion to all of my students, that I could help each of them know their worth and reach their fullest potential,” Ostergaard said in a video screened Monday night during the Honors in Education Gala held at The Grand America.

Ostergaard, an educator at Ignite Entrepreneurship Academy, a public charter school in Lehi, was among 19 educators honored as Teachers of the Year during the second annual educator recognition event presented by the Deseret News. Six other people were honored for their respective businesses’ contributions to education in the Beehive State.

The educators honored Monday teach in 11 school districts, one at a public charter school and one teaches at a private school. Some are rising teachers while one of the honorees, Payson High School educator Sherry Heaps, has taught for 48 years. One of the honorees, Viewmont High School teacher Carly Maloney, also is the Utah State Board of Education’s 2024 Teacher of the Year.

The full list of honorees will be published later this week.

Showing up for teachers

The gala, sponsored by the Robert H. and Katharine B. Garff Foundation, preceded the third annual Show up for Teachers conference on Tuesday at Mountain America Expo Center. The conference is an initiative of Utah first lady Abby Cox.

Cox said it is impossible to understate how much teachers inspire their students and how that influence endures into adulthood.

“I promise you, you can name every one of your elementary school teachers and most of your middle school and high school teachers. They have an impact,” she said.

Parents love teachers “because they love our children,” Cox said. Teachers love their students even when their behavior is awful and it is admittedly harder to do, she said.

“I know you love them when they’re struggling. You love them when they succeed. It takes that love, it takes that ability to look past a student’s behavior, to look into their eyes ... and say, ‘I see something in you that you don’t see in yourself yet.’ You can inspire them to be something they didn’t know they could be and each and every day you are doing that,” Cox said.

Katharine Garff, a business leader, philanthropist and community advocate, said her sixth grade teacher, who was leading a class of 45 students, took the time to meet with each of them individually.

He asked Kathi about her goals and values, which she had never considered in a formal way.

She said she aspired to be honest, kind and forgiving, answers which she came up with on the fly because earlier that day, she and her brother had had a fight and her mother’s admonishment had included a lesson on the importance of telling the truth, being kind and forgiveness.

As for goals, Garff said two were of a personal nature and she opted not to share them with the gala attendees. The third was, “I want to graduate from a university,” said Garff.

Her teacher told her what was perhaps the most important thing any educator had shared with her up until that stage in her life, which was, “Kathi, I believe in you.”

Garff is an alumna of the University of Utah and went on to chair the Utah State Board of Education and serve on the Utah State Board of Regents, among other community and education-related service.

Gov. Cox thanks teachers

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox thanked the teachers for their life-changing efforts on behalf of students, which he experienced himself growing up in rural Utah.

When Cox’s parents divorced when he was 10, he thought that the world might be a better place without him.

But he had teachers who saw something in him that he did not see in himself “and that pulled me out of this, inspired me to do something different, that there was a greatness somewhere, that there was a mission out there, that there was something good in this world for me to accomplish. I’m so grateful I stayed. I stayed because of people like you. So thank you for who you are. Thank you for what you represent and the way you represent us,” the governor said.

Cox noted that Utahns “live in a very special place at a very difficult time in our nation’s history,” referring to political polarization and culture wars.

“So, much of that’s been placed in the laps of our educators, completely and unfairly. You, together with our administrators, have often borne the worst of that,” he said.


Cox said his brother is a teacher and school counselor at North Sanpete High School. He teaches a concurrent enrollment class in literature for Snow College and a parent objected to one of the books the class was reading.

“There were meetings and angry letters to the editor. People showed up to try to get him fired and lots of other really good people showed up to thank him and show support for him. Those types of things are happening across the state and across the country. They happened in our past, and we’ve come through those difficult times, and I’m certain that we can again,” he said.

Cox lifted up this piece of good news: Utah ranked second to Massachusetts on Forbes Advisor’s top 10 states for education, which considers proficiency in certain subjects in fourth grade and eighth grade and ACT scores, among other metrics.

“I will tell you to most of the country, there is one state on that list that would surprise them, and it’s us, right? But it’s no surprise to the people in this room, and it’s not because of our system. It’s not because of our governor or legislature. Sometimes we make it in spite of those things. It’s because of you,” said Cox.

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