Sally the Sorceress cackles while mixing mathematical brew at Clayton Middle School.

When she's not threatening to zap kids into newts, Sally drops hot cubes and cold cubes in her "potion" to teach mathematical concepts of positive and negative numbers."It's really hokey," said Sally, a.k.a. Diane Crim, an algebra teacher at the Salt Lake school. "But it gets them listening . . . that's half the battle."

Crim's creative, hands-on approach to math and her love for students has netted her the title of Utah Teacher of the Year, an announcement made public Friday.

"There are a couple of sayings I have bookmarked. One is by Elizabeth Andrew: `Good teaching comes not from behind the desk but from behind the heart.' And that's what (Crim) exemplifies," said Salt Lake superintendent Darline Robles, who changed her weekend travel plans to attend a Friday banquet in Crim's honor.

Crim, who swears she performs terribly in interviews - including the one for teacher of the year candidates - was bowled over over by the award.

"I think that it's pretty humbling. It's been an interesting and educational process."

Crim knew education was her calling after her Highland High School calculus teacher put her in charge of class for a day. She earned her college degree in three years and has been a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics since a student.

"The true expression of how much she cares about kids, it just comes right across," said Elaine Tzourtzouklis, president of the Salt Lake Teachers Association. "I just think this will be something our district can really use as a catalyst to tell teachers, `Look. We're all like Diane - we all care about our students."

Crim says Clayton Middle School was kind enough to hire her nine years ago, and she's soaked in every moment since. So have her bosses.

"In 1989, the administrator who hired her made a very fine choice. And to this day, I would thank them," said Clayton assistant principal Dellis Hatch. "I think she possesses two outstanding qualities: The first is a passion for teaching, and the second is a love for students. I've met a lot of teachers, but I don't think they've developed both things to the degree she has."

But Crim also has a love for other teachers and their energy. She co-authored a grant and curriculum to offer inservice to nearly every middle school teacher and many sixth-grade teachers on how to more effectively teach equations.

"You get teachers together and they just talk," Crim said. "Anytime I do an inservice, I end up stealing more than I get."

Her passion for teaching touches her students.

"I have had the desire all my life to be a teacher," former student Kami Newbold wrote in recommending Crim for the award. "I have had a few teachers whom I have truly admired . . . Mrs. Crim has been one of those people high on my list."

Crim, who at one time prided herself on her ability to explain anything to anyone, learned early in her career that kids learned the most when they were the ones who figured out why the math worked and explained their theories.

"She maintains the respect of her students at the same time she frees them to think, discuss and apply their understandings to problem situations. Her classes are often noisy, but it is productive noise," wrote Donald M. Peck, University of Utah professor emeritus.

"In my almost 40 years of involvement in mathematics education and working in the schools with practicing teachers, I have only met four people that come close to Diane's level of power and performance."