NORTH AUGUSTA --- Fridays in Nikki Mock's fifth-grade class are spent curled up with a children's classic under a desk or vegged out with an adventure novel on bean bags beside a huge Captain Jack Sparrow cutout.
Incorporating her favorite pastime into the class was essential in Mock's success at Hammond Hill elementary and one of the reasons she stepped into the classroom five years ago.
"The first year I started off with a reading series and I realized I was not an effective teacher if I went by that book," she said with a laugh. "I learned that the kids guide where my instruction goes."
Last week when Mock was named the 2010 Aiken County Teacher of the Year, the selection committee cited Mock's commitment to move past textbook lessons and immerse pupils in literary life as one thing that set her apart from the other nominees.
She's known as the teacher that doesn't just encourage picking up a book, said Principal Janet Vaughan, but she also brings it to life through silly voices when she reads aloud. She also took it a step further by starting an annual character parade where pupils can dress up as their favorite fairy tale princess or villain to celebrate reading.
"She just has a passion for reading and it's even motivated the teachers to start taking tests and collecting points like the students," Vaughan said.
Mock's classroom is established to capture the magic of reading with Disney characters attached to definitions and a Mickey Mouse wizard hat to wear when the "word wizard" works on vocabulary.
She's firm, but fun, even when there are half a dozen little hands in the air asking for a pencil sharpener or to go to the restroom at the beginning of class.
Mock said finding the balance of geeking out with her pupils to the latest young adult novel and still maintaining respect has to happen in the first few weeks. Her pupils call her the "Mockinator" when they know they've crossed the line of goofing off too much.
"They know I will cut up and joke with them, but they also know I have a clear line," she said.
This month Mock will spend time with her mentors from the University of South Carolina Aiken preparing her next round of applications for the South Carolina Teacher of the Year.
"Just winning this means that everybody at Hammond Hill believed in me and supported me and loved me so much that they nominated me," she said. "I just see this as an opportunity to expand that support and learn from other teachers I'll meet throughout this process."