She wasn't graduating Sunday, but for Free State High School teacher Patti Bailey the occasion was a first for her as well.
Bailey received the 1998 Educator of the Year award; she was one of 13 teachers nominated by Free State students.
``It's a great honor,'' she said. ``I taught at Lawrence High School and I made the choice to come to Free State. This tells you that I didn't make a bad decision. We have smaller classes and can give the students more attention.''
Bailey, who teaches American history, American politics and psychology, had almost every FSHS senior as a student this year. While she was surprised that she won the award, her students were not.
Valedictorian Aidan Loveland said she voted for Bailey because of her commitment to students.
``She's a role model for all future teachers,'' Loveland said. ``She keeps the attention of the class, and keeps us on task while still making it fun. She's definitely deserving of the award.''
Loveland, who plans to major in education, said she admired Bailey for her teaching style and respect for students.
``She's such a great teacher,'' she said.
It's not just students who took note of Bailey's teaching technique this year.
Teacher Mary Chapman wasn't allowed to vote, but if she had been, Bailey would have been on her list of excellent teachers.
``All I wish is that I had the time to come in and be her student,'' Chapman said. ``I hear the kids talk about her all the time. She inspires us all.''
Bailey, who along with Steve Grant announced the names of the graduates as they walked across the stage, remained humble about the experience.
``There were 13 very, very qualified nominees,'' she said. ``I hope I represent half of what they stand for.''
-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.