In a profession where pay is low and recognition minimal, two Payson teachers have hit the jackpot.
The duo, Tina Crabdree of the Payson Center for Success and Tracey Herbert who teaches physical education at Julia Randall Elementary, will be honored at Hondah Casino in Show Low Saturday morning as co-teachers of the year in Gila County.
The honor, bestowed by the Arizona Small and Rural Schools Association, normally goes to one teacher in each county, but Crabdree and Herbert received the same number of votes cast by association members.
"They voted two or three times," Crabdree said, "and we were still tied. So they decided to make us co-teachers of the year."
Both teachers were nominated by their respective principals, Crabdree by Monica Nitzsche and Herbert by Sue Clark.
According to Nitzsche, Crabdree was nominated because she "is consistently in touch with reality." In fact, her guiding principle as a teacher is "how will this mesh with real world expectations?" Nitzsche said.
"It is a simple premise," she said. "The true job of a quality educator is to develop people who are successful in the real world. Student success after high school is Tina's target goal."
Clark emphasized similar characteristics in nominating Herbert. "Anyone who has had the opportunity to work with Tracey quickly realizes that she focuses her program on life-long skills for physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle," Clark said.
It is a focus that encourages even those students who are not physically coordinated to gain an interest in fitness and health. "Too often a physical education program is geared to those with athletic ability or interests," Clark said. "But at Julia Randall, all students are eager to participate because they know that even if they can't catch a ball, they can be successful."
Crabdree, who has been teaching for seven years, gave up a career as a range and wildlife biologist to become a teacher. "I wanted to spend more time raising my kids, so I guess you could say that I became a teacher for the summer vacations," she said.
The Payson Center for Success is a ninth- through 12th-grade charter high school, providing services to 48 students who range in age from 16 to 21. In addition to core academic instruction, the school provides additional academic/vocational instruction in a community setting.
The Center for Success is one of two charter schools in Arizona that is chartered by a school district. "When it opened in 1996, Monica and I were hired to create the curriculum and operate it," said Crabdree. "It's a school where things are done differently from a traditional school environment, and it's for kids who want that kind of experience."
One of the advantages of teaching at the Center for Success is that Crabdree gets to work with the same students five hours a day for two or three years. "It really is a situation where you can make a difference in their lives," she said.
Crabdree does that by always expecting the best from her students. "That is how they learn to expect the best for themselves," she said.
"I want them to be professionals so when they leave the school they can be employed anywhere."
Herbert, who has taught in the Payson Unified School District for 17 years, was inspired to become a teacher by her mother, who was also a teacher, and by a junior high school physical education teacher. "She said, 'Hey, you like to play. This would be a neat career for you,'" Herbert recalled.
Today, she believes that it is essential to emphasize the importance of establishing a permanent routine in her students' lives.
"These days kids are less likely to be active and more likely to be obese," she said.
"Because of that, they're more likely to develop diseases that cause them problems. That's why it's so important to get them to form positive and permanent routines when they're young."
To accomplish this, she makes sure every child can try out any experience at his or her own skill level.
"The advantage I have," Herbert said, "is that it's all activity in my area, and kids like activity."
Crabdree and Herbert are being honored at the Hondah Casino because that's where the Arizona Small and Rural Schools Association is holding its annual meeting. It's a measure of recognition well deserved.
But the real winners won't be at the casino Saturday. They are the students who will enjoy better lives thanks to their exposure to these two outstanding educators.