Erickson honored as Ten Sleep Teacher of the Year
March 23, 2023
Ten Sleep School Superintendent Annie Griffin gathered students and staff in the Ten Sleep gym on Tuesday, March 14 to announce the 2023 Teacher of the Year. Words of praise echoed off the walls as she read aloud nominations from staff and parents:
"'I nominate this person because of her perseverance demonstrated every day to her students in the school. She brings her A game and shows true grit in giving kids all she has.'"
"'This teacher has always had a patient and loving personality, both with the kids and her coworkers. She's maintained this through everything.'"
"'She is not just what I believe to be one of the best teachers in the state, let alone the school, but this past year, she did so while fighting a battle I don't think anyone would want to fight. No matter what is going on in her world, she is always trying to put her students and this school first ... I firmly believe that Nikki Erickson deserves to be Teacher of the Year.'"
Second- and third-grade teacher Nikki Erickson descended from the stands to cheers of, "Let's go, Miss E!" from her students. She was met with flowers, a plaque and hugs from her family, friends and coworkers who have seen her battle breast cancer this entire school year without missing a beat, making sure her students are always on track for success.
Erickson has taught at Ten Sleep for 11 years. She began as a substitute teacher, then paraprofessional, student taught, then moved on to run her own classroom after earning her teaching certificate.
"I come from a long line of teachers," Erickson said. "My grandparents were teachers, my mom was a teacher, my aunt is a teacher, my cousins are teachers and when I started working as a para, I just thought, 'I really like this!' I liked making relationships with kids, building that bond. I loved when they were learning and got 'aha' moments, and I just thought, 'Wow, I think I want to do this."
Her first student-teaching experience was in a first- and second-grade combined class. Reminiscing on those students, now high school graduates, Erickson said, "We would go out on the playground and draw the planets on the sidewalk, and the kids would fall in orbit. I always wanted the kids to have engaging things to do while learning. I just remember how tiny those kids were, and now they're all grown up."
Erickson was on a field trip with her students on Sept. 14, 2022, when she had to leave early to receive a cancer diagnosis in Cody. Since then, her community has gathered around to support her. Erickson said her colleagues have been a great help, for example, taking over her recess duty and covering for her during doctors' appointments. "We take care of each other, we take care of the kids," Erickson said.
Her students don't seem to notice they have a sick teacher, Erickson said, as she works hard not to project when she is tired from treatment. However, they are curious about her missing hair and eyebrows. "Last week one of the little girls said, 'Mrs. Erickson, when is your hair going to grow back?' and I said, 'I don't know, but I've got some little peach fuzz growing!' and she said, 'Oh can we see it?!'" Erickson laughed.
"It's a challenge, for sure, but the flip side of that is, I'm grateful for this job, because on the days that I can get up and come to work, I'm thinking about what I need to do for the kids and I'm not sitting at home thinking, 'Oh, woe is me.' It's actually a really good distraction, and I love it. I eat, sleep, breathe teaching," Erickson said.
Also nominated for Teacher of the Year were Jason Thoren, Emily Hudson, Wade Moore, Donald Anderson, Adrienne Forshee, Georgia Stocklin and Kathleen Hampton.
"It was extremely humbling. I looked at all those other nominees standing there and thought every single one could have won Teacher of the Year and truly deserved it," Erickson said of her appointment.
Erickson shared celebratory cake in the cafeteria with the entire school following the ceremony, and her students were more than happy to dig into the frosting reading "Washakie County School District No. 2 Teacher of the Year," complete with Pioneer insignia.
"First of all, I hope we are giving [students] what they need to go on and succeed in life. But also, I hope that they can see that you can go through a hard time, and maybe things aren't 100% perfect, but you can keep going, keep digging away at things, and make it through the hard times," Erickson said.