RECTOR, AR (KAIT) - On a cool, comfortable day in October, Lance Mabrey wakes up earlier than most teachers in northeast Arkansas.
Some days, Mabrey walks out his door to find dew on the ground and the sun barely over the horizon. Mabrey gets in his car, turns the key and goes to school, where he switches vehicles.
He starts his work day in a yellow school bus, picking up children, just as he's done for several years.
This describes just one of the reasons Mabrey was nominated for KAIT's Teacher of the Year.
Mabrey earned October's Region 8 Teacher of the Month thanks, in part, to his dedication to what he calls more than a job. Mabrey teaches 1st grade at Rector Elementary School, where he started his career 12 years ago.
"This is where they learn how to read, and that's such a rewarding thing. To actually see a person who knows ABC's take it into the next level and be able to leave first grade and being able to read," said Mabrey. "That's a true blessing to see that every year."
Mabrey graduated from the University of Central Arkansas, where he got a degree in education. He's also taught Sunday school at a local church. He also coaches children in different pee wee sports. Mabrey said his love for sports, especially the Arkansas Razorbacks, helped him connect with a certain student.
"Mr. Mabrey has been a blessing to our family. Our son has mental health issues and was actually placed in homebound placement last year in a previous school. Since moving to Rector this year, Mr. Mabrey has helped (him) achieve honor roll and to attend regular classes full time," reads Mabrey's nomination letter.
Mabrey said the student loves the Razorbacks. Since Mabrey's classroom is widely decorated in white and red, the student feels comfortable with his surroundings.
"We cannot express what has done for our family. We attend physician appointments regularly and even they can tell a difference in(him). We have actually been able to lower medication. We went from getting calls every single day for behavior to not having received one at all this year. We are nominating him because of his advocacy in believing every child deserves a chance at real education," reads the nomination letter.
"He's going to be like everybody else. I'm going to treat him like everybody else and we're just going to see where we can go," said Mabrey.
Mabrey tries to get to know each child's likes and dislikes. It's one of the lessons he learned early in his career. He believes it helps relieve the student's uneasiness about school.
"Understanding what is going on inside the child's mind, where he's coming from (is vital). Then you have to stop and not just automatically react to certain things, but stop and think for a minute, what is the best way to handle this? Or what is the best way to help him learn," said Mabrey. "Their minds are like sponges. They see things. They can absorb it. We can be talking about something and they can come up with ideas I haven't through of. It's just the way their mind works. They see things differently, which is good, because in turn it helps me broaden my views and I can help them broaden theirs."
After a day in the classroom, Mabrey wraps up his day by driving students back home. Then, depending on sports, he can go home to spend time with his family. He then does it all over again.
"I'm a teacher that the kids understand I'm here for them. I care about them. I want them to feel safe in asking any question or telling me anything. And hopefully they know I'll be looking out for their best interest," said Mabrey.