Aaron Gillam makes terrific teaching look magical, but his success is because of his insistence on high expectations for his students, he said.
Gillam - who teaches psychology at Jefferson City High School when he is not spellbinding audiences as a magician - was chosen as the Jefferson City Public Schools' Teacher of the Year Thursday evening.
In a black suit with splashes of red glitter, Gillam approached the podium as his peers gave him a standing ovation.
"I was teasing my wife I should've won something sparklier," he said.
He told a brief anecdote about a student who was struggling in his class.
"She was working hard, but just not getting it," he said.
After coming in for some after-school tutoring, Gillam was able to show her some study techniques to make the learning easier. Eventually, not only did she master the material in his class, she applied her new study skills to other subjects.
He said it's a "good feeling" to know his students will use such skills later in life.
Gillam earned a bachelor's of science in psychology from Truman State University in 1994 and a master of arts in education from the same university in 1995. During his professional career, Gillam taught middle school social studies and English, as well as junior high courses for gifted students. This is his 18th year as a teacher.
Gillam believes that high standards are critical for high-quality teaching.
"One of the challenges I face is having students who are not taught how to study and prepare for the work before them. My philosophy in dealing with this challenge is to set the expectation for achievement at a high level and then structure my class in a way that teaches them how to study to reach those expectations.
"Put simply, I refuse to lower my expectations."
Gillam said he also refuses "to teach only to the test."
The district's Teacher of the Year program is 20 years old; recipients typically compete in the statewide competition.
After thanking the room for the award, Gillam said: "I'm sure there's 100 more teachers more deserving than me in the room."
Five other finalists were recognized for the award Thursday evening, including: Emily Roberts of Belair Elementary School; Stephanie Green of Cedar Hill Elementary School; Beth Dampf of Jefferson City High School; Jana Forck of Jefferson City High School; and Melanie Thompson of East Elementary School.
As winner, Gillam received $750 for himself and $750 for the high school. Each of the six finalists received an iPad.
The award starts with a process that requires letters of nomination.
"We received nominations from administrators, teachers, parents and students, many of which were very touching," Mitchell said.
The next step is the application process. Submitted applications were reviewed by a selection committee that looked for a person who possesses all the qualities of a good teacher. After the six finalists are selected, the committee travels to each of the six classrooms to personally meet and talk with the applicants.
Honored with Gillam was Melanie Thompson, a fifth-grade teacher at East Elementary School. Both educators were recognized with Excellence in Teaching Awards from the Jefferson City Public School's Alumni Association.