BY RACHAEL GRAY
It's Diane Smith's students that keep her going every day and enjoying her third-grade teaching job at Buffalo Jones Elementary School.
Smith loves researching and developing different ways to reach her students, who come from a variety of levels and backgrounds.
Smith, who has been in education for four years, doesn't look at teaching as a mundane job, but an experience of getting to have fun and growing every day as a teacher.
She is one of six finalists for the Crystal Apple Award, an award given annually to Finney County's top educators. The C.A.R.E. Task Force of the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce announced the 2012 finalists earlier this month. C.A.R.E. stands for Community Awareness and Recognition in Education.
The top three finalists will be named as the 2012 Crystal Apple Teachers of Finney County at a banquet Thursday at the Clarion Inn, 1911 E. Kansas Ave. The winners will receive an engraved crystal apple, $1,000 cash award and other prizes. The other three finalists will be presented with a cash award of $250.
Other finalists are Andrea Baker, Garfield Early Childhood Center; Adam Cassellius, Garden City High School; Emily Hamlin, Holcomb High School; Debbie Adler, Jennie Barker Elementary School, and Rod Willis, Buffalo Jones.
Smith enjoys what she does.
"It's an awesome job. It's fun, and I love coming to work every day," she said.
She learns from the students and they challenge her, she said.
"I love teaching, and my kids are the reason I pursue more education and research different ways to reach them," she said.
Smith is from Michigan and met her husband, Jason, who also is a teacher from Michigan, in Garden City.
He teaches fourth-grade right next door at Buffalo Jones.
Smith said they both share the experience of living in Michigan and starting off their careers in southwest Kansas.
"It's been a big change, but we've made it our home, and I have had good teaching experiences and learned a lot at this school. I have an awesome team. I don't think I could have been any luckier with any other place I would have chosen," she said.
Smith taught third grade for a year, became an interventionist and returned to teaching third grade. She's been at Buffalo Jones all four years.
She said she is glad for the switch from the No Child Left Behind curriculum to Common Core Standards.
"It changed the curriculum big time. I feel like we're getting kids into a deeper understanding with the Common Core curriculum," she said.
Smith said the curriculum hits on a wide variety of topics and implements different activities.
"Now, I can aim for different types of activities that require higher-level thinking. I think it's good we're challenging students," she said.
Smith said Common Core curriculum gets students more involved.
"We can dig deeper into subjects and do more activities where they are discovering and exploring. That part is really fun," she said.
Smith said she hopes what she's teaching will be applicable to the students in their everyday lives.
"I think the kids will be able to take what they learn and apply it to the rest of their lives — to take what they learn and be successful," she said.
Having positive role models as teachers is what got Smith into teaching in the first place. She said she wants to do the same for her students.
"Every year, you have different kids, so you're always looking for new information. As a teacher, I'm always looking for different ways to teach them. I'm always looking for new activities because the students are always different. Even though I'm teaching the same subjects, no classes are ever the same," she said.
Smith earned her bachelor's degree from Eastern Michigan University and her master's degree in curriculum with an emphasis in English as a Second Language from Newman University.
She and her husband have a daughter, Elizabeth, 22 months.