A sly hidden smile from one of her students is one of Allison Elkow\u2019s most satisfying moments on the job. Elkow has been a teacher in Ridgefield for the past 23 years and has won the district\u2019s Teacher of the Year Award for her excellence and dedication in the field of special education. She sits at one of the tables in her classroom \u2014 lining the walls are posters of Harry Potter characters featuring positive messages. The room is structured in group tables, and in the corner marked with a large green\u00a0poster is a quiet area for students who need to decompress. She didn\u2019t always admit she wanted to be a teacher. Growing up, it wasn\u2019t a respected profession in her household. \u201cMy father kind of put teachers down a lot. So they didn\u2019t get a lot of respect. He said they didn\u2019t make enough money,\u201d she said. Nevertheless, she suspects it was her calling even before she herself knew it. While in college she had a job at the school preschool. Whenever she phoned home she complained to her parents about her roommates and other college-related stress, but she never failed to fill them in about work. One day her father asked her if she had ever thought about becoming a teacher. \u201cThis was long before cell phones, of course. I dropped the pay phone and it just hung in the air for a few minutes before I picked it back up. Then I declared my major,\u201d she said. Ever since, she has delighted in seeing children flourish and nurture their self-esteem through positive reinforcement. \u201cWhen they have that \u2018aha moment,\u2019 that light kind of goes on in their heads,\u201d she said. \u201cAbout something you\u2019ve been working on with them, or a way you\u2019re trying to make them feel about themselves and they just kind of get it.\u201d [embed]https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/watch?v=kPJdGp963QM[\/embed] Sometimes helping children believe in themselves can be the most difficult aspect of her job. \u201cIt\u2019s hard to work with them if you know their skills and things you can help foster and grow in them and they\u2019re having difficulty with their own self-esteem,\u201d she said. But she believes that working as a team with other school faculty, such as counselors and psychologists, is instrumental in the success of these cases. She describes winning Teacher of the Year as a \u201csurprisingly happy shock.\u201d Elkow, who moved to town after marrying Ridgefield-native Christopher Elkow, goes to work every day ready to devote all her energy to the development of her 14 students. But she never imagined her efforts were being noticed to such a large extent. \u201cIt was a solidification of all these years of me continuing to do all the best that I can for the students,\u201d she said. \u201cOther people are noting and were also giving me accolades for it, and it was just very humbling.\u201d For Elkow, being a special education teacher means that work merges with her home life. Her father-in-law Jon Elkow used to be on the board of education. She spends much of her free time doing required paperwork so that she can give her students her full attention at school. She said there is no average day, but she does have a schedule. Elkow moves around the school, sometimes teaching in her own classroom or making visits to other classes as an observer and helper. In this environment she interacts with all of the students in order to not single anyone out. Since she first started her career she has noticed changes in the field of special education. \u201cThere is a greater positive push to really have the students I work with be held to the same standards as their typical age peers,\u201d she said. Elkow knows her students can achieve in the same way as the rest of their peers \u2014 they just need different methods. \u201cMany kids with special needs, their brains are kind of wired differently,\u201d she said. \u201cIt doesn\u2019t mean that they\u2019re not capable of doing those tasks or activities that their peers do, which in the past they may not have done. It\u2019s just that we need to provide them with different tools and strategies to be successful.\u201d As for their teachers, she encourages everyone to value them. \u201cTeachers as a whole don\u2019t get the credit they deserve,\u201d she said. \u201cIf you could just ask teachers what it is that they do or enjoy about their job or any struggle they had, people would better understand all the work that we do."