AIKEN --- Bringing traditional reading to life with funny voices and hand gestures to engage pupils made Hammond Hill Elementary fifth-grade teacher Nikki Mock stand out from her peers and earn the title of Aiken County Teacher of the Year.
Mock was awarded the honor Monday at Newberry Hall by the Aiken County School District.
"I have found a magic kingdom ... where if we can dream it, we can do it," Mock said of her classroom in her application.
Mock, who is in her fifth year of teaching, is known as the one who doesn't shy away from being goofy and embracing her inner nerd if it means sharing her love of reading.
Her class was even the inspiration for New York Times best-selling author Michael Buckley's N.E.R.D.S. series, which he dedicated to Mock and her students.
"I am truly blessed," Mock said during a speech to fellow teachers after receiving her award.
Mock said she's rewarded more in one day in the classroom than a year in a traditional job.
Each section of her application began with inspirational quotes from Walt Disney, which she uses in the classroom to share the idea that learning really can be magic.
Mock credits her parents and Principal Janet Vaughan for never saying no, even when she changed careers to become a teacher.
Mock earned a bachelor's degree in communications from the University of South Carolina Aiken and worked as a reporter before earning her master's degree in education from Southern Wesleyan University.
Beth Eberhard, an Aiken Elementary fifth-grade science and social studies teacher, was also awarded the Public Education Partners Champion Award for innovation.
She will receive $1,000 to be put toward classroom supplies.
Mock is the third Area 2 teacher in four years to win Teacher of the Year. She will spend the next year representing Aiken County throughout the state and will compete for South Carolina Teacher of the Year.
The following teachers were named as members of the honor court: Linda Harmon, of Aiken High; Elizabeth Eberhard, of Aiken Elementary; Esther Blake, of Chukker Creek Elementary; and Suman Marks-Johnson, of North Augusta High.