"Being a teacher is who I am, not what I do," says Lynn Cherkasky-Davis.

This Chicago educator was awarded the Professional Best Teacher Excellence Award by Learning magazine last year. The honor came with a new Oldsmobile convertible.

Ms. Cherkasky-Davis has come a long way since she first began teaching about 20 years ago. "For the first eight years I was incredibly traditional," she says. "I taught straight out of the teacher's guide and those awful basal readers."

But a complete rethinking of her teaching philosophy began at a bookstore, where she invited a children's author to visit her class. "I just changed the way I was teaching and started bringing in real literature," she says. "I was pretty burned out before I started teaching this way. I couldn't change the whole system, but I could change my part of it."

Her biggest problem now is that "there's not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do."

She doesn't give her students traditional grades anymore. "We grade kids like we grade eggs or meat," she says. "I think that's an abomination."

Now she spends evenings working on detailed anecdotal portfolios showing what each student has learned. In the classroom, she carefully watches students and notes their progress in particular areas. "I end up with little yellow Post-it notes all over the room reminding me of who mastered what skill," she says.

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