NORWALK, Iowa – A longtime teacher in the Norwalk School District makes sure all her students are comfortable in the classroom, no matter their differences.

The start of the school day looks a little different in Mrs. Dirk’s classroom at Orchard Hills Elementary.

“I just happened to be in the hallway one day and had peeked in and watched the entire class just do the Pledge of Allegiance in sign, trying and my heart just went…goosebumps everywhere,” Amy Horn, mom of second grader Izaiah, said.  

The extra movements make the difference for Amy’s son Izaiah who is hearing impaired. It’s why she nominated Izaiah’s teacher, Janet Dirks, for a Golden Apple award.

“I don’t know what to say,” Dirks said when she accepted the award. “What an honor. I don’t know who nominated me, but I love this job and I’ve been doing this for 36 years and I love these kids and I love the people that I work with. So I can’t ask for a better job in the world and a better place to work so thank you.”

Izaiah went from not wanting to go to school to having a hard time staying away when sick at home.

“I just love the confidence that he’s had and the growth that he’s had with her,” Horn said. “He was falling behind a little bit and now he’s just skyrocketing with confidence and it’s all Mrs. Dirks. She’s just been a big support for him and our family and we’re very happy.”

It’s a testament to the impact Mrs. Dirks has on all her students.

“It doesn’t matter who is in her classroom or what challenges they may have,” Sheila Taylor, principal at Orchard Hills Elementary, said. “Or do they need a challenge, or do they need something different? Do they need an accommodation? Whatever it may be, she is right there willing to do it.”

“She never gives up and she always finds a way to connect with that student,” Adam Dirks, Mrs. Dirk’s son, said. “And the thing that you have to remember is that it’s not usually connecting through the content of what you’re teaching, it’s usually the way she’s connecting with them through the relationships that she’s building with them.”

It’s clear Mrs. Dirks always has love in her lesson plan.

“It’s way more than teaching them you know math, because if you can’t get to their feelings and emotions then they’re certainly not going to learn from you during the day,” Dirks said. “So I think it’s just a big deal to get to their hearts and let them feel comfortable with you.”

Mrs. Dirks has been teaching for 36 years. She says she taught first grade the first eight years, the rest have been second grade.

Watch the full interview with Mrs. Dirks below: