The Golden Apple Foundation of New Mexico awards up to seven teachers from around the state with the Golden Apple Excellence in Teaching Award each year. To highlight this year’s winners, each awarded teacher is coming onto the set of New Mexico Living to dive deep into what inspired their teaching journey.

Shannon Ryan is a fifth-grade teacher at Lavaland Elementary School. Growing up with a father in education, Ryan wanted to be an educator her whole life. However, what really pushed Ryan to start her career in teaching was growing up with a reading disability. “I struggled with it, and it influenced how I felt about myself,” says Ryan. “It wasn’t until I had a teacher who really got to know me, got to see me, and the strengths and assets that I had that weren’t just about reading.”

Ryan says that that teacher inspired the way she runs her classroom today. Focusing on collaboration, projects, and hands-on learning allows each of Ryan’s students to thrive in the classroom.

In 2015, Ryan started a garden project initiative to teach kids where their food is coming from. “A lot of times you’d ask, ‘Where does food come from?’ and they would say, ‘Walmart.'” Ryan hopes to inspire her students to be “vessel[s] of change,” teaching them to grow their own gardens at home.

The Golden Apple awards rotate every three years through the three major school levels: elementary, middle, and high school. Teachers are recognized in a variety of subjects, including STEM subjects, physical education, special education, advanced placement courses, and more.