In a surprise ceremony last week, USD 382 named fourth grade teacher Pam Branaman as Teacher of the Year.

The Pratt school district brags about its teachers; in fact curriculum director David Schmidt says they're some of the best he's ever worked with, and it's hard to single out one best teacher.

Still, it's tradition to name a Teacher of the Year, and by tradition in the Pratt district, that person is the last to know. The stated purpose of an assembly last week at Southwest Elementary School was to celebrate students — what they can do and aspire to — and to put a spotlight on character education that is a focus of the school.

The real celebration, however, was for Pam Branaman, a fourth grade teacher and 20-year USD 382 veteran, first as a Happy Hopper and now as a Southwest Super Frog.

"She puts her students first, and works her hardest to bring each student to the highest level of achievement possible," Principal Jason May wrote in a nomination letter. "Time after time she has taken low achieving students and has then guided them towards success."

"It's my job to show them how to learn with their own set of talents and strengths," Branaman said. "Then I can offer a set of tools to help them with the areas they need help. It is not my job to fit my students into a particular mold. If they come to me wanting to be a bull rider then a bull rider they will be. The same goes for a fireman, fashion designer, NBA player or even an astronaut. The focus of my graduate work was titled 'Lead Them As They Dance in Their Differences.' This sums up how I have always seen my place as a teacher.

"I like to do things that bond my students as a class family. I want them to be safe to be who they are."

Although May praised her as handling discipline very effectively, Branaman said she really has only one rule, quoting from J.C. Watts: "Character is doing what is right even when no one is looking."

Branaman's students aspire to be called one of the R.A.T.S of 4B. Most students over the past 20 years can likely recall earning the honor of being a Responsible And Trustworthy Student, she noted.

"She does not fear technology," Schmidt said, adding that, if the technology fails, she always has a back-up plan.

"It seems every time I walk through her classroom that she is trying something new with the iPads, laptops, the Smartboard and the document camera," May noted.

He also commented that Branaman has recently signed up to attend 118 webinars to learn how to use iPads in the classroom, reflecting an overall commitment to professional development. If there is an opportunity to attend a workshop, join a book study, take a class or attend a webinar to learn more or acquire an additional skill that she can use, she takes advantage of it.

Branaman has served as building improvement chairperson at Southwest and played a major role in Southwest becoming a Title I school, which provided much-needed funding and additional staff support.

She has been nominated for the Presidential Award as an outstanding elementary math and science teacher, is a member of Delta Kappa Gamma and the Association of American Educators.

Before she joined the USD 382 staff, she supported her three children as they progressed through Pratt schools, as a member of PTO, president of the organization, as the "picture lady," to promote art appreciation in elementary schools and as an aide to elementary GATE teachers.

"I've been many variations of Greenback, but always GREEN!" Branaman declared.

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