Jason Tackett, a special-education teacher in Salt Lake City, says it was “self-reflection” that made him interested in a career working with children.

He remembered his own experiences in school, Tackett said, and how he needed teachers who could see through his behavior to the deeper emotions he didn’t know how to express.

“My approach with the kids is not to stand up above them and say ‘this is where you need to be,’” Tackett said Monday, shortly after receiving one of this year’s Huntsman Awards for Excellence in Education, “but to go to where they’re at and then we walk out together.”

Now a 15-year educator, Tackett learned he was among 11 recipients of this year’s prestigious Huntsman awards during a surprise visit to a Franklin Elementary School faculty meeting by Karen Huntsman, continuing an annual tradition of individual school visits leading up to an awards ceremony and dinner in the coming weeks.

The award includes a $10,000 check for each winner, with instructions that they spend it on themselves and not their classrooms.

“It was one of my husband’s very favorite things that we do every year,” Karen Huntsman said of Jon Huntsman Sr., who died in February. “He will be missed at the dinner this year.”

Tackett is so far the sixth award winner announced for 2018, following Mountain Ridge Junior High principal Mark Whitaker, Copper Hills High School principal Todd Quarnberg and teachers Teena Ivers, Stephanie Hunt and Steven Hendricks. Another five winners, including an elementary principal and one school volunteer, will be announced later this week.

Randy Miller, Tackett’s principal at Franklin Elementary, said the honor was, perhaps, “overdue.”

Tackett, Miller said, works with special-education students throughout the west side of Salt Lake City School District and contributes to the overall success of the school beyond his classroom.

“I think it’s great for the teachers to see that recognition for one of their own,” Miller said. “Especially [for] Jason, he’s just that well thought of by everyone.”

Tackett, who was chosen as Salt Lake City School District’s Special Education Teacher of the Year in 2015, said he has no plans to change his position in the near future, despite the demands of his field.

“I love this school,” he said. “I love the population that I get to work with.”

And with his prize money, the teacher said he’d like to take a vacation. “I love to travel,” said Tackett.

Editor’s note: Paul Huntsman, a son of Karen Huntsman, is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.