"She is always kind and nice. She loves giving not getting." "She has the ability to see the greatness and potential in each student." "My teacher has a lot of ways to make learning fun."
Those are the ringing endorsements given to three Fulton Public Schools teachers who were finalists in 101.5 KPLA's annual Apples for Teachers contest. Fourth-grade teacher Teresa Kucera from Bush Elementary and fine arts teacher Mikelle Cortez from Fulton High School were finalists, while Bush third-grade teacher Heidi Ebersole won the Golden Apple for the Jefferson City area.
"There's so many things they do. I think their passion for teaching in general and making sure the kids are well-rounded in the classroom is what makes them good teachers," Bush Elementary Principal Lynn Engle said of Kucera and Ebersole. "They love being in the classroom listening to the kids and their ideas.
"What makes Mrs. Kucera stand out is the amount of encouragement she provides for the kids - she makes sure they're well-cared-for every day. Mrs. Ebersole is very enthusiastic; she has a drive to teach and do her best for the kids."
Fulton High School Principal Teri Arms shared a similar assessment of Cortez, whom she said made theater a hands-on experience for her students.
"They learn the history of it, they learn acting, they learn scene development and character development," Arms said. "Most important, she builds leaders. She makes students responsible for the productions, and in doing that she makes leaders for our school."
Although it is always pleasant to receive praise from coworkers, Ebersole, Kucera and Cortez all agreed that what made this award special was that they were nominated by students and parents.
"Hi! My name is Grace. I'm here to tell you about my third grade teacher," Grace Sparks - who was in Ebersole's class last year - wrote on her nomination form. "She is always kind and nice. Like when she ordered books for babies. We had to write a letter for the mom and dad of the child. We sent the books to Callaway Hospital."
Sparks went on to describe Ebersole as funny - "she even laughs at people's jokes when they're not funny!" - and thinking about others first.
Ebersole - who was a finalist last year - said she was surprised, but very happy at her win. Ebersole said it was her grandmother who inspired her to become a teacher.
"My grandmother was my kindergarten teacher ... and I kind of always knew that's what I wanted to do, just like her," said Ebersole, who has taught in Fulton for 19 years. "My favorite thing is probably forming the relationships with the students and their parents and instilling that love of learning.
"I love to watch students grow and learn and develop self-confidence that they can do it."
Kucera was nominated by a current student, Jordyn Case, who wrote, "I think my teacher, Mrs. Kucera, is one of my favorite teachers."
"My teacher knows how to teach science, social studies, math, reading and a lot more. She is a great teacher because she is doing an awesome job preparing us for the MAP test," Case continued. "I like my teacher because she has a system where at the end of each quarter, if you have four or less assignments that are not late, you can do "Photo Booth' or play any games you want."
Kucera, who is in her fifth year with the district and her 20th year as an educator, said she was "thrilled and speechless" when she found out she was a finalist. Like Ebersole, she said teaching was something "I always wanted to do."
"I like to be around children, I just love to see their reactions when they finally get it," Kucera said. "To be a good teacher you have to have understanding, compassion, nurturing, knowledge - basically just have a little bit of everything, just like a mother."
Kucera herself nominated Cortez because of the work she has done with Kucera's son, Nate, noting, "Her patience, understanding and direction made this experience so powerful to him."
"She may never know how this has touched his life. Her kindness and willingness to believe in him helped him to build his self-esteem," Kucera wrote. "Mrs. Cortez is the kind of teacher that changes lives and makes the difference in our children. I can't thank her enough for this gift that she has given my child."
According to Cortez, who is in her fifth year with the district, the most important characteristic a teacher needs to be successful is "to understand the differences of the students and that there is not a cookie cutter way to teach every student."
"You have to treat every kid as an individual with different needs and desires and objectives," Cortez said. "I think I'm very personable with my kids. I think I walk the line where they know who's boss - they know I'm still the teacher, the parent - but yet I can interact with them as if they're adults and almost a peer."