MOLINE, Ill. — In Allison Olson's second-grade classroom, fun is never very far away.
You can typically find students reading on a colorful playmat, working away on fidget and swivel chairs, or singing along to their teacher's "write your name" song. It's a delightful cacophony of laughter, learning and lots of little minds at work inside her corner of Moline's Hamilton Elementary School.
It's also why second-grade student Seneca Teed wrote to WQAD, nominating Olson for our 2023 "My Favorite Teacher" award. When we popped in to deliver the news, Seneca proudly delivered the trophy to her favorite teacher.
"It's the best teacher award and I chose to write about you," she smiled.
As Seneca began reading her nomination letter, Olson wrapped her in a huge hug, shocked about the heartwarming surprise.
"She always greets me nicely," Seneca read. "She gives us free time sometimes and she lets us use her colorful pens. She helps me learn new things!"
Laughing, Olson declared that we had picked the best possible day to show up with our cameras. And we sure did! It was "Decades Day" at Hamilton! Sporting a cheetah print MTV shirt and butterfly-clipped pigtails, Olson smiled and said it was an accurate depiction of her in the 90s - back when she was a student at Hamilton.
But beyond the hilarity, Olson's outfit was just another excellent example of why her young student nominated her in the first place. After all, Olson pours positivity and passion into everything she does for her children.
"She's always funny and she always jokes that she's the best teacher. And I want her to know that she's the best," Seneca said. "If learning wasn't fun, then you'd be like awww, I don't want to come to school. But if learning is fun, you want to go to school!"
And in Olson's classroom, fun is easy to find.
She takes time to have 30-second dance breaks, showing off her attempts at her students' favorite moves; the kids all sing along to her tunes reminding them to write names on their papers or line up quietly to walk through the hallways; and when reading a story about a tall flower, Olson and the students alternated between stretching way up to the sky or drooping down low to the floor.
"I want the kids to come to school and enjoy being here! I like to try to make the learning environment as much fun as I can while still learning and connecting with each other," Olson explained. "I'm hoping that my students can see that I'm full of energy and joy and they see it in the classroom as well."
But this mindset wasn't always so easy for her to find.
When COVID-19 first broke out, Olson remembers how tough the world of education became.
"COVID hitting just kind of took away a lot of my passion," Olson said. Connecting with students, having that face-to-face interaction was her favorite part of the profession. "Having to do it from home was really hard for me."
However, a few years into the pandemic now, Olson feels as though she's found her groove again.
"I've got back into my rhythm. I get to do what I love again! And I feel like (the students) can tell that I put a lot of effort in and that I love my job," Olson explained.
Now, she's focused on creating a positive learning environment, where children can learn to disagree while appreciating and accepting their differences.
It's a classroom where students can become teachers. And where fun, is never very far away.
"The biggest lesson I want them to take away is that we're all different, but we can all bring different things to the table," Olson smiled. 'We need to learn how to accept those things and be respectful of each other. That's my mission each day is to just build that classroom family with them."
Watch previous "My Favorite Teacher" stories on News 8's YouTube channel
Each year, News 8 features five outstanding educators who have been nominated by students throughout eastern Iowa and western Illinois who want to recognize "My Favorite Teacher." WQAD News 8 is proud to partner with Blackhawk Bank & Trust, Bard Optical, Carpetland USA and SERVPRO for this year's contest.