A teacher who creates an "electric atmosphere" to spark student interest in things beyond normal classroom activity was honored Tuesday night as Granite District's teacher of the year.

Lilia Eskelsen is not your standard teacher, said Patricia Gurr of the district, who introduced the outstanding instructor to the Granite School Board.Her love and enthusiasm for children communicate a message: "I care about you." She mixes a sense of humor, devotion to her profession and an innovative approach to teaching to create an outstanding classroom, Gurr said.

Eskelsen said she was determined to become a teacher even though she married at 18 and wasn't aware of the requisites to get into the profession. An opening at a Colorado Springs, Colo., day-care center attracted her attention, and when she failed to meet the requirements for assistant supervisor, she took the remaining open position - as a salad girl.

"I made myself known. I got to know the kids," she said. When a teaching assistant position with the 4-year-olds became available, she was on the spot and known to the day-care center employers as a good worker.

When she finally graduated from the University of Utah - magna cum laude - she had a 6-month-old child. Her master's degree and three advanced degrees in karate came later.

"I hope my life will never be business-as-usual," she told the board.

Among the special events she has promoted to involve her students in the larger world around them was a blood drive for a child suffering a rare disease. The sixth-graders baby-sat and conducted a "vampire escort service" for the 65 eligible adults who showed up to give blood on Halloween.

Kids laugh a lot in her classroom, she said. Comedy is part of her unique teaching style. She is also into shaking hands and patting backs in a big way. Teaching is, after all, "the ultimate performing art," she said. "You have the same audience, but a new show every day. And, of course, lots of audience participation."

She thinks her current mission is to prepare her students to survive in an increasingly technological world. She sponsored a successful fund-raiser to provide computer equipment for her classroom.

Eskelsen thinks teachers have nothing to apologize for and believes they deserve the support of the Legislature and the public. She encouraged her peers to "go public. Brag about what we accomplish in the classroom. We should not be denied the essential tools to create masterpieces."

She was awarded a plaque and will represent the district in state and national competitions.