Melissa has served as my mentor teacher throughout the course of this school year and I could not picture anyone more deserving to be teacher of the year than her. She has the biggest, most truly generous heart I have ever witnessed. Melissa teaches in a self contained special education classroom and does an incredible job meeting her student’s needs. She has gone above and beyond to create an environment that is fun, beneficial, and meaningful to her students. She spent the entire summer transforming the school’s storage room into a sensory room for her kids. She created sensory panels, hand painted designs on the walls, and crushed up CD’s to create a medallic type ocean wave, and that is only 1/5 of what she did to the sensory room. She also made a planetarium room for the students to use. Along with that, she had a kitchen installed to teach her students life skills. When Melissa is teaching she caters to the needs of each individual student. She finds ways to differentiate learning in a fun way. She has given the students a weekly paycheck where they are required to “pay their bills” for the week. This has provided the students with a way to use and apply money skills in real life situations. Melissa tries to make learning fun and engaging. She also teaches at a local college in the evening but still finds time to make sure everyone is taken care of (this includes her students at middle school, the college, her colleagues, and myself who she has mentored). Melissa has taken me under her wing and taught me everything I needed to know. She has worked with me on making sure I complete my IEPs correctly, taught me techniques to use within my classroom, and showed me what a great teacher looks like. We do not teach in the same school, yet she has gone out of her way to provide a mentorship to me which has allowed for me to grow so much in my knowledge. She arrives at school early and always stays late to ensure her lessons are fun and engaging. Melissa works hard to make sure each of her students are being treated fairly and equally, both in her classroom and outside of her classroom (in the general education classes). She makes sure that her kids are never disrespected and she also pushes to allow them to have as much independence as possible. She creates an atmosphere where these students are able to accomplish a great deal on their own. This is something that I haven’t witnessed in all special education classes. She thinks about how her students will be able to survive independently outside of school and works towards meeting those goals. Melissa has also created a safe space for her students to come to her and talk to her about personal things that may be going on. She serves as a role model to her students and the love she gives to them is astounding. When you walk into her classroom you instantly feel loved and important. She truly goes the extra mile and is the teacher I aspire to be. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award than Mrs. Linkous - she is an unbelievably, indescribable, outstanding teacher!