You could be excused for thinking that Deer Creek Village resident Lanae Laurias lives in a fantasy world.
After all, her mother "made up" her first name (pronounced "La-neigh"), and she grew up in a treeless Montana town named Plentywood.
There really isn't a tree in sight that hasn't been planted," Laurias said. "It's a wheat-farming and plains area."
While marrying Al Laurias turned her name from Lanae Miller to the more poetic Lanae Laurias, she vehemently denies that's the reason she married him.
Be that as it may, what is very real in Laurias' world is the fact that she was recently named Outstanding Teacher of the Year for Gila County by the Arizona Small and/or Rural Schools Association (ASRSA). Laurias, who this year will teach a combined second-third grade class, is in her 13th year of teaching in Tonto Basin.
One clue to her success can be found in her teaching philosophy:
"I truly believe every student has a right to learn and should be taught as much as we can teach them in the time we have with them," she said. "I really try to strive for excellence in my classroom."
Laurias also attributes a good deal of her success to Fred Jones, a California-based educator who teaches teachers how to teach.
"I just love that man and I wish every parent knew about him," she said. "What he advocates he calls positive discipline training and I think he has it nailed.
"He says the role of teacher in the classroom is not to nag, nag, nag. It accomplishes nothing and gets you into power struggles.
"You tell them once and then you wait until they do it," Laurias said. "Say what you mean and mean what you say."
Laurias realized how much a part of her classroom Jones' philosophy was when one of her students, who was about to read a book to the rest of the class, noticed some fellow students talking.
"He just sat there and looked at them until they quit," she said, laughing. "He did exactly what he had seen me do."
Laurias and her husband moved to the Rim country from Palm Springs, Calif.
"After graduating in 1983 from the University of Montana in Missoula, I taught for two years in Blythe," she said. "That's where I met my husband.
"We moved to Palm Springs and I taught there for four years, but we just got tired of the sand, wind and heat, so we moved here," Laurias added.
The Lauriases opened the restaurant at Punkin Center, where they got to know a lot of Tonto Basin residents. They were running the American Legion kitchen when they were approached by a Tonto Basin teacher who was getting married and needed someone to finish the school year for her.
Tonto Basin has six certified teachers and expects about 70 students this school year. Despite the fact that rural teachers wear a lot of hats, Laurias can still say, "I love it there," after 12 years.
"I had to learn to administer all the health care for students with juvenile diabetes and cystic fibrosis," she said. "I do all the accounting and bookkeeping for the Title 1 program, even though I don't have a business background. Then most of us teach multiple grade levels in the same classroom."
Laurias and 14 other rural teachers of the year will be honored Sept. 27 during the annual ASRSA conference in Tucson. At that time, one of the group will be selected to compete against winners from other states in the national competition.
Laurias isn't holding her breath.
"In my wildest dreams I never thought this would happen," she said.
"Actually, the honor for me was when (Tonto Basin Principal) John (Ketchem) came and told me he was nominating me."
Here is part of what Ketchem wrote in his letter of nomination:
"Mrs. Laurias' constructive attitude and her high expectations for herself and her students helps to form a strong and cohesive relationship between her students, their parents and the school. She is reputed in the community as a caring, positive yet insistent teacher who always puts the welfare of her students first."
Name: Lanae Laurias
Employer: Tonto Basin Elementary School District
Birthplace: Miles City, Mont.
Family: Husband, Al; brothers Scott and Josh; sister Michelle; dad and stepmother Glenn and Myrnette; and mother Vonnie.
Personal motto: A master teacher told me the perfect teacher is "always striving to get there," and "I've got lots of work to do."
Inspiration: My family, (Tonto Basin principal) John Ketchem and Fred Jones, an educator whose seminars and support materials for teachers emphasize positive discipline training.
Greatest feat: Being able to teach my children and know that they're getting a good education.
Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Reading, going to the movies.
Three words that describe me best: Honest, sense of humor, love life.
Person in history I'd most like to meet: Princess Di. I like the things she did.
Luxury defined: A weekend with absolutely no laundry, no housecleaning.
Dream vacation spot: Somewhere on the coast of Mexico, but farther down.
Why Payson? Wanted to get away from the sand, dust and wind of Palm Springs. The Rim country reminds me of Montana.