Gila County's Rural Teacher of the Year is Nancy Mullikin. She has taught English at Payson Center for Success for the past six years.
"The award means that I am finally doing something that I really find a lot of reward in, and somebody else agrees that I must be doing a pretty good job," Mullikin said.
Mullikin's "sense of humor, quiet demeanor and encouraging support" motivates her students to persevere, said Center for Success principal, Kathe Ketchem.
Ketchem and former Center for Success principal Monica Nitzsche encouraged her to apply for the award.
"(Ms. Mullikin) gave me confidence and explained how to write a paper in a way that I could understand," said Chorie Houdek, a Center for Success student. "Now, I love to write." Houdek writes before she goes to bed and carries a journal with her when she rides her horse.
Teaching is not Mullikin's first career. She was a novice nun (never took vows,) a racecar driver for three years and an entrepreneur.
When she moved to Payson seven years ago, she tried substitute teaching in traditional classrooms and found herself interacting with students in different grade levels. Mullikin found out that she was most comfortable with older students.
"They are more challenging and ask questions," she said.
She likes for them to think and said that rote learning does not prepare students for the real world.
When, a year later, the opportunity came to teach at Center for Success, Mullikin said she thought, "Wow, this is the way education should be -- one on one."
Payson High School English teacher Anna Van Zile has just completed her tenure for the 2005 award.
"Whenever you get an award it comes with mixed emotions, because so many others have worked so hard," Van Zile said.
During her tenure, she spoke to the Arizona Rural Educator Association, the Payson Unified district faculty and Kiwanis, but for Van Zile, the best part of the award was the thrill of riding in the Fiesta Bowl Parade in Tempe.
"I never realized how supportive the public is of educators until the parade," she said.
A veteran teacher of 22 years, she said her work is "best demonstrated in the classroom."
But students have changed over her career. They have a higher level of apathy now, Van Zile said.
Counteracting that attitude in the classroom is a challenge she meets with her "zany" perspective and by making English studies different and relevant to what goes on outside of class.
Van Zile advises, "Find your own groove. (Find) what makes you different and use it to your advantage. Do something with it and do it well."