East Idaho educator selected Teacher of the Year

POCATELLO — Mary Spiker asked her principal if she could skip Tuesday morning’s assembly. She said she’d rather spend time in her classroom with her students than attend the announcement of Idaho’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.

Wilcox Elementary Principal Brenda Miner ignored the email, so Spiker repeated the request minutes later.

“She asked again if the assembly was really that important — that’s just the kind of teacher she is,” Miner said.

Little did Spiker know she was slated to receive Idaho’s 2017 Teacher of the Year award during Tuesday’s assembly. After finally agreeing to attend, State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra presented her with the award and a $1,000 check.

“She has worked hard to establish relationships with her students and their families,” Ybarra said, “and she sees failure as a way of learning.”

Spiker received the award for her service to kindergarteners and their parents — a job she didn’t initially want but has been doing 20 years.

“I was never going to be a kindergarten teacher,” she said. “Those teachers either make or break kids. I was once afraid of that.”

Moments before the assembly, Ybarra snuck into Spiker’s room to break the news with a bouquet of flowers and balloons.

After a group hug from her students, Spiker made her way to the cafeteria, where fellow teachers, administrators and several “who’s who” in the Idaho education world awaited her entrance.IMG_0306

Spiker was in the running for the award with 12 other Idaho teachers. A committee made up of members with various ties to Idaho education ultimately selected her application because of its emphasis on kids and parents.

“We were just impressed with how much she talked about kids,” said committee member and Northwest Professional Educators regional director Brenda Miller. “Rather than outlining the committees she’s been on or other grandiose qualifications, we liked her diverse teaching background, her experience in things like Title 1 and working  in rural schools.”

Teachers at Wilcox said the recognition and cash were well deserved.

“She probably spent more than ($1,000) on her own classroom,” said teacher Jolene Stienfeldt. “All you have to do is walk into her room to see that.”

Spiker said her success is rooted in her desire to keep parents in the loop.

“I think it’s just as much my obligation to teach parents as it is my students,” she said. “If one of them comes to my class for a visit, I put them to work and get them helping with the kids.”