For a teacher who taught science to O.J. Simpson trial judge Lance Ito, you'd think being named Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year might be anticlimactic.
But with Rim Country Middle School 8th grade science teacher Gloria Joe, nothing is anticlimactic and therein lies one factor in her classroom success. Joe is enthusiastic about everything she does, and that attitude rubs off on her students.
"It may seem funny, but one of my biggest successes was to get this one special ed student to do a science fair project," Joe said. "I had to hammer her a little bit, but she finally did it."
Her principal, Frank Larby, said what Joe brings to the classroom goes beyond enthusiasm.
"The word passionate can be used to describe Mrs. Joe," Larby said. "For more than 20 years she has brought her passion for science and working with young people to our school."
Joe originally came to the Rim country with her husband when he was named pastor of Community Presbyterian Church.
Two decades and a lifetime of experiences later, she has now been recognized as one of our nation's finest educators. Each Wal-Mart store annually selects a Teacher of the Year from the local community from nominees submitted by the public.
"We look at how many people nominate someone and then at their accomplishments as well," said Lou de Somma, community involvement coordinator for the Payson store. "Wal-Mart recognizes the importance of our teachers, because they do shape our future."
RCMS received a $500 check from Wal-Mart that Joe said will "probably be used to buy science stuff," and she got some mementos as well.
"I got this really nifty vest that said '2001 Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year,' plus a certificate and a cake," she said.
Joe believes another key to her success is having a weird sense of humor.
"As a middle school teacher, you have to be able to look at these kids and say, 'They are so funny.' I love the teachers here because we're all strange kinds of people."
A graduate of UCLA, Joe "taught a little in L.A.," and that's how she happened to have Ito as a student. While she doesn't remember much about him ("He was this little chunky kid with glasses."), she did notice that the addition of a moustache "makes me look just like him."
Which, of course, translated into a great Halloween costume. Almost as good, she said, as the time she and another teacher sewed two pairs of jeans together and came to school dressed as Siamese twins.
For the immediate future, Joe plans to keep doing what she loves to do. But she realizes the day will come when it's time to walk away from the classroom.
"I'm starting to have some kids in class whose parents I also had. It's a little scary," she said. "I'm thinking, 'These kids are having kids.'"
When she does decide to close the door on her storied career, there is one thing her legions of ex-students know for sure that she'll take both her enthusiasm and her weird sense of humor with her.