Nikki Gallentine ’04 was recently named to the prestigious list of teachers honored with the Golden Apple Teacher Award. Gallentine is a 4th grade teacher at Prairie Hill Elementary in South Beloit, IL.

Gallentine, an elementary education alum, was distinguished among hundreds of outstanding PreK-5th grade teacher nominees representing public and non-public school districts of Winnebago and Boone counties. Each year, educators in this area look forward for a chance to join this elite group. Teachers can be nominated by students, colleagues or principals and Gallentine received multiple nominations.

The Golden Apple Award program is hosted every year by the Golden Apple Foundation as a way to honor great teachers, while involving the community and helping the community understand the positive impact that teachers make in students’ lives.

This past year, over 600 teachers were nominated for the award. From that pool of excellent teachers, each nominee wrote a five-page essay on their philosophy of their classroom and who they are as an educator. Twenty semifinalists were selected, observed teaching in their classroom environment and interviewed by a committee of peers. On Golden Apple Day, the top five winners were surprised in their classroom with a big celebration including family, colleagues and the media.

“The look on the kids’ faces when my celebration began will forever be one of my favorite memories. It was so unbelievable,” said Gallentine. “They know what you are up for and were very encouraging on that day.”

Gallentine is so appreciative of Golden Apple because they made her really feel that she is doing great work. With 15 years of teaching experience, she knows that recognition and evaluation of her teaching are so important in helping her improve.

“This was a great process because it allows you to reflect a lot and I think that’s one of the keys of a really good teacher. This process has allowed me to continue that reflection but times one hundred,” said Gallentine.

This award was so important for Gallentine as she feels like she can finally honor her third-grade teacher who made a huge impact on her. In grade school, Gallentine was shy and never felt like she belonged in the classroom until Mrs. Huddleson became her teacher.

“She made learning fun and was ahead of her time. She made you feel like she valued you as a member of her class and that was the year that I started to blossom as a student,” said Gallentine. “She made me feel like teaching was something that I wanted to do when I got older.”

Gallentine never got to say goodbye to Mrs. Huddleson or tell her of the impact that she made in her life as Mrs. Huddleson moved away the summer after Gallentine was in her class. This award is such an honor to Gallentine’s career, but also to Mrs. Huddleson’s who set her on the path to become a teacher and who was such a positive influence in her life. In fact, Gallentine’s teaching style and advise to new teachers is inspired by that experience.

“She doesn’t know how big of an impact she had on my life and that’s what is so special about teaching,” said Gallentine.

Gallentine’s teaching philosophy is to be an active participant in her students’ education, to build positive relationships with her students and to create an active classroom environment where students are excited to learn.

 “Even though times change and we need to keep up with new ideas in education, the biggest thing you can do to as an educator is to build strong, positive relationships with your students,” said Gallentine. “Once you have those relationships, the students trust and respect you and it helps them feel excited to learn.”

Gallentine noted that the Golden Apple process was intense but incredibly rewarding.

 “I’m very honored that I got to be a part of the process [Golden Apple]. I do think it has changed me as an educator as I’ve been able to be very reflective about my teaching and have met an amazing group of educators, in the other finalists, to learn from and to have a great professional community.”

Congratulations to an amazing Redbird educator who is positively making a difference in children’s lives every day.