AIKEN - As her class munched on dill pickles, Catherine Martin wrote words on the chalkboard that her second-grade class used to describe the tart, textured treat.
"Juicy. Sour. Magnificent."
To a backdrop of soothing African lullabies, the pupils set about their writing exercise of the day, describing their classroom taste test.
"Who made you so smart?" Ms. Martin asked with a smile when one of her second-graders correctly defined "genre."
Ms. Martin, 37, can take a lot of the credit for imparting knowledge to second-graders at Redcliffe Elementary School. On Tuesday night, she was recognized not only as the Redcliffe Elementary Teacher of the Year, but as the 2004-05 Aiken County Teacher of the Year.
Forty teachers - one from each school in Aiken County - were recognized Tuesday at a dinner sponsored by Aiken County Public Schools. A committee of educators and community members narrowed the list of 40 teachers to five finalists for Aiken County Teacher of the Year. Ms. Martin will represent Aiken County at the South Carolina Teacher of the Year competition later this year.
Ms. Martin, born in North Augusta, was a school counselor for six years before teaching. She did her undergraduate work at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla. and earned her master's at the University of South Carolina.
She credits her 10th-grade English teacher, Brenda Hunt, who inspired her to become a teacher.
"She connected to me and made me feel that I was smarter than I was," Ms. Martin said.
She doesn't slow down for a second and keeps the class fast-paced. While pupils are passing out notebooks, she will lead them in London Bridge is Falling Down. Instead of only talking during lectures, she also uses sign language.
"They found that it's a great way to communicate in the hallways when they are supposed to be quiet," Ms. Martin said.
She said she chose to teach second-graders because she can see them growing in so many different ways.
"They are at the age when they are starting to realize that their words have power," Ms. Martin said.
Her pupils are given responsibilities and are expected to show their creativity in daily activities. After pupils write and illustrate books, she gives them time to show their work to the rest of the class.
"When we get in a circle to share, they love the applause or giggle or misty-eyed expression. It's amazing to hear their excitement," Ms. Martin said. "That's what yanks the covers off of me every morning."
Reach Karen Ethridge at (803) 648-1395, ext. 109 or firstname.lastname@example.org.