For Dixon, Ill., native Judy Foster, teaching is not just a profession it's a passion.
She feels as if she has a classroom full of grandchildren, rather than students, and she prefers it that way.
"Every year, by the time the end of the school year is approaching, I turn into a wreck," she said. "By the last day of school, I am so sad to see my class leave me that I always end up in tears. I am glad to see them go on to second grade, but I know that I am going to miss them terribly, too."
Foster has developed a relationship with her East Elementary School students that makes her feel as if they are part of her family the type of family that some of these children don't even realize exists.
Of Foster's 18 first-grade students, only seven live with both of their birth parents. Though, in most situations, children adapt fine and can attain the same emotional and educational growth as children from two-parent homes, these children still remain classified as "high-risk."
"Things are changing so quickly in the family life today," she said. "I think it is difficult for some of these children to adjust to the fact that there is only one of their parents around.
"Occasionally, you can sense that something is not right with them, and it is important that as a teacher, you recognize that and if necessary, talk with the student about what may be bothering them outside of school."
Foster has seen a dramatic change in the type of student that she teaches today, as opposed to the ones she taught 10 years ago.
Though Foster is the first to admit that many school-aged children today have a lot of baggage that they bring to school with them, it may also be one of the common threads that binds her to her students.
"One day, I had two of my little guys standing on each side of me crying," she said. "Both of them had parents who died in the last year, and I had just recently lost my father.
"We were standing there, and it didn't take too long before all three of us were in tears. Sometimes you can feel so sorry for these little kids that have so much put on them at a young age, that it really can get to you."
Foster has not traveled the typical path into the teaching profession, electing to lead children in the classroom only after raising a couple of children of her own.
"I decided to stay at home and raise our two children before I pursued a teaching career," she said. "I am considered a latecomer to the teaching profession, but that's all right. I think that it helps me to be a little wiser in regard to the childrens' needs, because once you've raised a couple of kids you can notice some of the small things a little better."
Though Foster has been teaching 12 years, she learned an important lesson early on.
"You have to put the child first," she said. "If children know that you respect them, then getting them to listen to you and learn is much easier."
Foster received her A.A. from Colorado Mountain College, her B.A. in elementary education from Regis College in Denver, and her M.A. from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.
Foster taught sixth grade students for the first six years of her career and has been teaching at the first grade level for the last six years.
"As a teacher, I believe that you are constantly on stage," she said. "If you are having personal problems or something is not going right, you have to make adjustments and realize that you have 18 little guys and girls that are counting on you.
"It's not enough to just show up and teach, it is important that you are able to rise to the level of leader when those kids are around. No matter how bad a day may be going for me, I know that some of my students may have a lot more problems, so I have to be there for them."
Although Foster is realistic about the problems that students face in today's homes, classrooms, and hallways, she believes there is a way teachers can combat them at least for a little while."
"You have to have a good sense of humor, because if you can make the kids laugh, you can grab their attention," she said. "Sometimes you can just see on their faces that these little guys and girls have something that is really bothering them.
"Often they don't want to talk about what it is, so it is up to the teacher to find a way to just lift their spirits a little, and figure out a way that we can just make it through another day."