A Nevada Math Teacher Wins a National Award And Gets a New Platform For Early Literacy Advocacy

An Assembly and a Surprise

One day last fall, third-grade teacher Pam Ertel was escorting her students to an all-school assembly.

Except it wasn’t the kind of assembly she was expecting.

Pam was told they’d be hearing from a motivational speaker.

In reality, she was the guest of honor.

In front of the faculty and entire student body, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval presented Pam with the 2017 State Teacher of the Year award.

Pam received the award midway through her thirty-fourth year as an elementary school teacher.

She was selected from among 28,000 teachers statewide.

“I was both totally surprised and incredibly humbled,” Pam said.

Math: A First Love

In college, Pam minored in math.

“My advisor said to me, ‘We need strong mathemeticians—especially in elementary schools.’”


“My advisor said to me, ‘We need strong mathemeticians—
especially in elementary schools.’”


Since then, Pam says she’s had a passion for finding better ways to teach math in her classroom.

“It can be stressful and frustrating—for a student who is struggling and for me,” she says.

“But it’s all worth it when he or she finally starts to see improvement and gets the confidence boost that comes with it.”

“I live for those little moments, those shared successes.”

A New Passion for Literacy

As a young teacher, Pam says she looked up to more experienced educators.

“There’s always something to learn and someone to learn it from,” she says.

“I went to a lot of teaching events and conferences.”

At one such conference, Pam had the opportunity to hear best-selling Australian children’s author and literacy advocate, Mem Fox, speak.

Mem shared a personal story about literacy with the audience.

“When their daughter Chloë was very young, she and her husband had the joint realization that she could read—despite not having any formal teaching at home or at school,” Pam recalls.

“Eventually, they came to the conclusion that their nightly routine of reading to Chloë must have had an impact on her literacy levels.”

Early education research backed up their theory.

Inspired, Mem helped execute a national literacy campaign in Australia—focused on the importance of reading to children.

Literacy Rate Results

The campaign results were huge: the national literacy rate rose to 98 percent.

“Mem’s story was hugely impactful,” Pam says.

“Early literacy became a personal cause for me, too.”

As a Teacher of the Year, Pam will have a new platform for her work as an early literacy advocate.


As a Teacher of the Year, Pam will have a new platform
for her work as an early literacy advocate.


Connecting Outside The Classroom

Pam’s connection to literacy isn’t limited to the classroom.

In her spare time, she helps manage childcare services for C.I.R.C.L.E.S., a non-profit organization in Carson City, Nevada that works to help individuals and families get out of poverty.


In her spare time, Pam helps manage childcare services for C.I.R.C.L.E.S.,
a non-profit organization in Carson City, Nevada that works to help
individuals and families get out of poverty.


“Poverty and literacy are often closely connected,” Pam says.

“During our weekly workshops, I make sure to spend time reading with the children—even if it’s just 15 minutes.”

Pam encourages the families she works with to do the same.

“We don’t often realize it, but parents are a child’s first teachers,” she says.

“Learning to read and write doesn’t start in kindergarten. Those literacy skills begin to develop at birth—and the first three years are absolutely critical to their development.”

Pam’s best tip for parents: help young children develop literacy skills through everyday activities.

“Share books with your children, tell stories, sing songs.”

“Simple interactions at home play an important role in preparing your children for future success at school.”

Lessons from an Education Expert

So much of what makes great teaching, Pam says, can’t be scripted or taught.

“It’s about connecting with your students on a human level.”

“Let them be your guide and ask yourself, ‘Is what I’m doing truly helping them learn and grow, or do I need to change something?’”

“For 34 years, I’ve kept that connection to my children at the center of my teaching.”

“It’s best for me—and for them, too, I think.”


“For 34 years, I’ve kept that connection to my children at the center of my teaching.”
“It’s best for me—and for them, too, I think.”