A Pratt third grade teacher wasn't a very good student and third grade was an especially hard year for her.

A Pratt third grade teacher wasn't a very good student and third grade was an especially hard year for her.

"I didn't learn the way the teacher was teaching. I didn't get it," Arica Malone explained.

She became a teacher to change that for others.

In the spring of 2011, Malone was named USD 382 Teacher of the Year, and last weekend she learned she was a semi-finalist for Kansas Teacher of the Year, sponsored by the Kansas State Department of Education.

A 14-year teaching veteran, 13 for USD 382, she tries to remember what it was like to be a third grader who struggled and to concentrate on teaching the whole child.

Kids get a high five, a handshake or a hug when they come into class in the mornings. After the flag salute and recitation of a class creed that focuses on working hard and helping each other, students write a statement about how they're feeling on individual dry-erase boards.

Sometimes a few students will write, "I'm hungry," prompting Malone to get out the animal crackers. Someone may be excited because of an event, or tired because something interfered with a good night's sleep. This week a student wrote that she was happy because she was at school.

Malone said she doesn't focus on what might have happened that morning at home, but she keeps it in the back of her mind.

There are class rules, but not of the "don't do that" variety. She guides her class to write its own rules, based on what it looks like, sounds like and feels like to be peaceful. Rules are stated positively — "don't run" becomes "walk in the hallways."

Third grade is a big transition, from learning foundation skills to putting them to use, Malone said. She tries to help the children learn coping skills and calming techniques. She described a student who was becoming frustrated with a math problem. She suggested he get up, walk across the classroom and search in the math "toolbox" for some items that might help him solve the problem. He insisted he didn't need any of those tools, but complied with her suggestion to get up from his desk. After he finished the rest of the assignment quickly, Malone asked him when he figured it out. The answer was, "when I walked over there."

Southwest Elementary Principal Jason May praised Malone as being "the best at building relationships with students, a good team member, a leader among the staff and always willing to share ideas."

Malone is an "excellent representative of the teaching profession," Superintendent Suzan Patton said. "She's creative, she cares about her students, and she provides excellent instruction for them."

Malone's "competition" for Teacher of the Year has ended, but she will have opportunities for professional development as a result of being named one of 12 semi-finalists. She has several conferences on her schedule, there may be an opportunity for the semi-finalists to visit with Kansas legislators, and they will visit each other's schools.

"I'll bring back those ideas to my building and district and hopefully make a positive impact back home," she said.

Region 1 semi-finalists were named last Saturday at a banquet in Salina, where Malone's high school English teacher from Buhler was named a finalist.

"You get to see the cycle continue," Patton said, noting her pride at being among so many educators who have devoted their careers and their lives to helping kids.

Teachers of the Year in USD 382 have the option of applying to the Kansas State Department of Education Teacher of the Year program or the Master Teacher program at Emporia State University for statewide recognition. Beverly Crump is the current Teacher of the Year.