When Torrence Creek Elementary School teacher Wanda Butler was growing up in eastern North Carolina, there weren't a lot of day cares.
So her grandmother improvised.
"My grandmother was like the neighborhood grandma. She would look after everyone's kids," said Butler. "It was easy for me to see how she helped them grow and mature and helped them learn from life experiences. And I knew then that I wanted to be a part of that when I grew up."
More than three decades later, Butler helps kindergarteners in the Lake Norman area discover the world around them too.
From witnessing the magical metamorphosis of a caterpillar to learning how to count, Butler gets students excited about learning, said teacher assistant Gina Kuhr.
"She creates this nurturing classroom environment," she said. "She helps students feel relaxed. They have a healthy respect for her but they're not scared of her."
Local radio station V101.9 FM recently honored Butler as the year's final Terrific Teacher Tuesday winner.
The contest recognizes excellent teachers who receive the most votes from listeners each month.
"I love it because essentially the parents are like my customers," said Butler, 43, who has taught at Torrence Creek for five years. "It's nice to hear that the public supports what I'm doing in the classroom."
Some parents have been so impressed by Butler's teaching style that they specifically request her, she said.
"She has a great rapport with her students. She's very calm and loving and caring," said kindergarten teacher Amy Dawson.
Butler also has a knack for pinpointing a student's weakness and creating a plan, said Kuhr.
Often that will involve setting a lesson to music or incorporating a student's personal interests to make the lesson more relevant.
Butler recalled one student who couldn't tell the difference between a letter and a number at the start of the year.
By June, he was reading entire books.
"I was so proud of him I took him to the office and had him read to the literacy facilitator and principal," said Butler. "You should have seen his face light up. He was really proud of himself."
Butler said it's moments like those that reinforce why she became a teacher.
"My first grade and kindergarten teachers instilled in me a love of learning," she said. "I hope to instill that same love of learning in them because that builds the foundation for the rest of your life."