It isn't difficult for Kaye Bonner to get on the same level as her first-grade students.
For one thing, she's only 4 feet 9 inches tall."They're not as intimidated," says Bonner, recently named Muir Elementary School's inductee into the Davis District's Educator Hall of Fame.
But Bonner's diminutive stature belies the greatness of her heart, which is the real reason she has been so successful, according to those who nominated her for the award.
"She's a fireball, just a super lady," says Principal Jesse Taylor, who compares Bonner to the lovable "Miss Schlowski" in the movie "Kindergarten Cop."
Calling her a "solid example of the best in teaching," Taylor adds, "She has devoted her whole life to education."
Bonner, who comes from Midway, Wasatch County, has taught elementary school since the mid-1960s. She's been at Muir Elementary since it opened in 1969.
"I'm a permanent fixture here," she says, exhibiting a sense of humor that puts her peers and students at immediate ease. In fact, when asked about her most recent award, she joked, "I think it's a seniority thing."
It's estimated that in her 26 years of teaching, Bonner has touched about 600 students, many of whom remain in contact with her long after they've left her class.
Why? Probably because of the way she made them feel about themselves.
Though preparation and knowledge are important tools for a teacher, the ability to impart self-esteem ranks highest on her list.
"I really think self-esteem is the basis for being able to learn. If the kids don't feel good about themselves, they're not going to learn to do reading and math."
Bonner, who plans to teach for seven to 10 more years, gives her students high doses of praise, using stickers and Post-it notes with messages of encouragement. After class, she's available for reassuring hugs.She emphasizes the positive. No negative comments will be found on her students' papers. If, for example, a student misses seven answers on a 20-question quiz, he'll see a "13" on his paper rather than a "-7."
"If they got the right answers but wrote it sloppily, I'll point out that they got the right answers and then tell them quietly that they could have been a little neater."
But when her efforts bear fruit - such as in the case of the boy who at the beginning of the year showed no interest in learning but is now an active participant - she is quick to dismiss her own role, instead giving credit to the student or to a team effort of teachers and parents.
Like any good teacher, Bonner spends a lot of time one-on-one with the children.
"I ask each child a lot of questions about themselves, their family, what they plan to do with their lives, if they had one wish, what would it be . . . .
"I just enjoy children," says Bonner, who has no children of her own. "I want them to enjoy school and feel good about themselves, so I try to reach out and be warm to them.
"You've heard the saying, `I don't care how much you know until I know how much you care.' I think that's really true."