Cherie Heath began decorating classrooms when she was just a kid.
Like her grandmother, Heath is a late bloomer.
“My grandmother was a fourth grade teacher,” explained Heath. “She started when she was 40 and I literally lived in her classroom doing bulletin boards and setting up.”
Heath went back to college at age 30 and began her teaching career at Dr. Daniel Bright School at age 35.
After 10 years in the classroom, Heath is number one.
Saturday, she received the award for Outstanding Teacher of the Year in Yavapai County.
Heath also was honored with Teacher of the Year for grades fourth through eighth.
She barely made it to the ceremony.
Friday, Heath was in Chicago doing what she does best, putting her students first.
“I planned to go to a national math conference in Chicago because I knew I could bring so much back to my classroom.” Declining the invitation to attend Saturdays banquet didn’t require much forethought.
“I wasn’t even considering going to the banquet because I thought, What is my classroom going to get if I win the award?” explained Heath.
But the administration at Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District thought differently.
Assistant Superintendent Dave Osborn phoned Heath in Chicago Friday night. He urged her to return home and attend the awards banquet in Prescott.
That night, Heath rushed into the Prescott Country Club at 7:30 p.m., grabbed her dress and soon received the honor of the number one outstanding teacher in Yavapai County.
She also received the honor of Teacher of the Year for grades four through eighth.
“I’m glad I came back for it,” Heath said. “It would have been bad if I hadn’t been there.”
Heath’s road to academic excellence also got off to a late start.
She returned to college at age 30 and for four years Heath and her 3-year-old daughter commuted from their rural Northern California Home to Chico, Calif. where she went to college to attain her certification.
“My husband was very supportive,” Heath explained. While dedicating herself to academics three days a week, her husband cared for their remaining two children at home.
It was time well spent.
While teaching at DDB, Heath said her experience as a mother, along with a strong sense of fairness and honesty are the qualities she brings into the classroom each day.
“I understand parental challenges,” she explained. “It’s a different world, I know what parents are going through.”
With this in mind, Heath makes sure that her students know that home isn’t the only place they will feel loved and valued. She believes that with love comes an acceptance of people’s faults and an honest approach to solving challenges.
“I’m honest with my students. I let them see my mistakes and we work through them,” said Heath. “My students know I truly care about them, where they’re going and what they’re doing.”
“She’s very cool,” said student Rachael Mullins. “She isn’t strict, instead she makes us work out the problem.”
A sense of humor doesn’t hurt either.
Student Max Block used to chew gum in Heath’s classroom, a typical rule infraction.
But Block’s chewing gum days are over thanks to his teacher’s novel approach.
“She’s got a great sense of humor,” Block said. “When she would catch me chewing gum she made me stick it on my nose.”
“Yep, she’s always laughing,” interrupted Blocks’ classmate Candice Schaefer.
Like other teachers at DDB, Heath doesn’t keep her personal approach a secret.
“For four years I’ve been involved in the new teacher orientation,” Heath explained.
Again, honesty is something that comes naturally to the award winning teacher.
“It’s such a joy. I’ve made every mistake and I’m a real good reference on how not to make them.”
One of Heath’s motivating techniques is especially favored by students.
“She’s cool, she gives us candy,” laughed Schaefer.
When you’re a teacher, bribery is always an option.