Shyamala Chivukula's students love their teacher so much they would walk across a bed of nails for her -- literally.
Actually, they line up to walk across the bed of nails built years ago by Chivukula, a science teacher at Bonneville Junior High in Holladay, to teach her students about pressure, force and area. Because the nails are so closely packed, they don't hurt when students walk across them.
It's one of many demonstrations Chivukula does every year and part of the reason she won a Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education. Each year, 10 Utah teachers, administrators and school volunteers win the $10,000 awards. And each of their stories is an answer to the deceptively simple question: What makes a good teacher?
Does education training produce great teachers? What about knowledge of the subjects they teach? Or is it something intangible such as devotion to students, enthusiasm or dedication?
Michelle Bachman, a teacher support coordinator and liaison for the University of Utah's College of Education, said good teachers know what it takes to help all types of students learn and know how to assess students' skills and progress. They connect with students by understanding their backgrounds and enjoy their work.
Bachman said teachers who are good at what they do engage students in wanting to learn. That makes students want to stay in school and pursue higher education, which is good for society.
"Good teachers do all of those things for kids," Bachman said.
Nibley parent Jalyn Rigby said a good teacher is someone who makes children enjoy school and learning. She said her fifth-grade son doesn't normally like school much but loves being in the classroom of Tiernan Dunmeyer, another of this year's Huntsman Award winners.
"[Dunmeyer] really enjoys coming to school, and you can tell, and the kids can tell," Rigby said.
Chivukula's students, however, say being a good teacher isn't just about making class fun. It's also about teaching and explaining concepts clearly and patiently.
"A good teacher actually makes you understand the topic," said Leticia Avalos, a seventh-grader in one of Chivukula's science classes. "It doesn't matter how many times you need her to explain it. She'll explain it until you get it."
This year's award winners each have their own perspectives on what makes a teacher shine and how to keep more good teachers in the classroom.
Winner Jennifer Kranz, principal at Parkside Elementary School in Murray, said good teachers are always looking to improve. Winner LeAnna Willmore, a choral instructor at Riverton High School, said good teaching goes far beyond training and experience.
But perhaps Marilyn Keir, an associate math instructor at the University of Utah, put it best in a letter she wrote in support of winner Diana Taggart, a math and finance teacher at West High.
"It is hard to put a measure on what makes a great teacher, but when you see one, you just know," she wrote.