During her first year teaching Advanced Placement art history, Cheryl Hughes hung a quote on the wall above her desk: "Whenever I realize that I know absolutely nothing about a subject, I arrange to give a lecture on it."
"I thought if that doesn't describe this year for me," Hughes said, "I don't know what does."
That, however, was 23 years ago, and the Golden Apple Award winner doesn't give herself nearly enough credit.
The Alta High teacher who held degrees in English, not art didn't know what she was getting herself into when she agreed to start the school's AP art history course. She spent that first year studying the topic at her kitchen table each night and waking from nightmares about students flunking their Advanced Placement (AP) tests, which determine whether they receive college credit.
But ultimately, 64 of her 66 students passed the test that year. Since then, she's had similarly high passage rates and has earned a master's degree in the topic. To Hughes, teaching has been "this great opportunity to learn."
Her enthusiasm has been contagious.
"You can tell she's really passionate about what she does and with that sort of passion and excitement for it, you can't help but feel it, too," said Shannon Lundberg, a former student who went on to major in film and media arts.
Over the years, Hughes has regularly taken her students and their parents on trips to San Francisco, Paris, Italy and London. She led academic decathlon teams to victory. She helped elementary school parents develop an art appreciation program. She's been part of the committee that helps develop the AP art history test students across the nation take.
But her belief in her kids is what she's known for most.
"She really does expect them to reach higher, and they do, and they want to for her," said Alta PTA President Ranae Murphy, whose daughter took Hughes' class this year.
Hughes hopes that's what students take away in the long run.
"I truly think in three or four years they're going to have forgotten most of the painters' names and dates and all that," Hughes said, "but what I really hope they remember is they had a teacher who adored them, who thought they were funny and smart and capable, and had so much potential."
Golden Apple Awards documentary
A documentary featuring the six teachers and two volunteers who earned this year's Golden Apple Awards airs June 3 at 6 on KUED.
O Watch videos of each of the eight winners at sltrib.com.