Winner, People's Choice Award

Abby Farris: Winner, People's Choice Award

Second-grade Teacher, Glacier Ridge Elementary School, Dublin City Schools

Seven years ago, Abby Farris thought she had it all figured out with her teaching career. Today she knows she doesn't and she couldn't be happier about it.

"Yes, seven years ago, I would have said, 'oh, yes, I know where I'm going,'" Farris said. "But now, even though I have goals, I know I have inspirations and passions that are always taking me in new directions."

In 2006, Farris, who grew up near Youngstown, had just plowed through The Ohio State University, earning her bachelor's degree in Human Development and Family Science, and then a master's in Education. She interviewed for elementary-school teaching positions in the area, and took a job at Glacier Ridge Elementary School, which was just about to open in the Dublin City Schools district.

"We opened the school together," said Julie Chonko, who has been the other second-grade teacher at Glacier Ridge and counts herself as one of Farris's biggest fans.

"It's her passion," Chonko said. "She's always looking for new resources and she's really creative about how her lesson plans, figuring out whether a child is a visual learner or an oral learner. It's that figuring out how to teach to multiple intelligences."

But Chonko may have to get in line behind Anne Laughlin-Fuller for the title of Farris's biggest fan. Laughlin-Fuller is both a teacher in the Dublin schools system and the mother of a medically fragile child. Her daughter, Katy, is one of only 16 people in the world with Antley-Bixler Syndrome, a congenital disorder resulting in skeletal malformations, and she is also hearing impaired. Katy, now 8, has endured apathy and animosity throughout her young life because of her disabilities, said her mother, but having Farris for her teacher has been nothing short of miraculous.

"Abby was able to look beyond her disabilities to see the child," Laughlin-Fuller said. "A lot of teachers can't do it."

She explained: "My child used to hate to go to school. Abby has worked with her to make friends, to love math, to slow down. She has made the classroom an emotionally safe environment for Katy."

Farris said she had no specific training in working with students who have special needs, but she credits her students for teaching her. During her third and fourth year of teaching, she had a young boy in her class whom she said "was more of a teacher for sure than I was. He rocked my world in a positive way."

The child, who had autism, was "vivacious and bubbly, and he just had so much depth to him," Farris said. When Katy showed up, Farris felt she was ready for more lessons from a special child and the two have developed a tight bond that will continue with a mentoring arrangement in the future. Farris is using part of her Teacher of the Year prize - the $100 El Vaquero gift certificate - to take Katy to dinner.

The inspiration Farris said she draws from her students makes it both hard and easy to do her job. It breaks her heart to deal with some of the curve balls being flung at schools these days. The looming launch of the "Third Grade Reading Guarantee" has been especially difficult for Farris. It is a state regulation that will hold back any third-grader who does not meet a specific reading standard.

"I know it's being done with the best of intentions," Farris said of the law, "but what it entails…puts a huge burden on an 8- or 9-year-old, and that's extremely difficult."

But there is, thankfully, the part that makes it easier. Farris explained, "Like Oprah says, 'what better job is there when every day that you show up, everybody applauds you?' I show up every day to my job and I get the best hugs."

Winner, Judge's Award for Best High School Teacher >>