SYRACUSE -- After 33 years in teaching, Joanne Spencer has given new meaning to the term "going out on top."
Spencer, a fourth-grade teacher at Bluff Ridge Elementary School in Syracuse, is retiring this year after more than three decades of teaching Top of Utah children.
Spencer was honored as one of 10 teachers, principals and volunteers across the state to win the prestigious Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education this year.
Along with the honor, Spencer receives a $10,000 check -- just in time for a nice retirement celebration.
The awards, created by Karen and Jon Huntsman Sr., have been handed out for the past 19 years and are presented to two teachers and one administrator at the elementary, middle and high school levels, plus one volunteer.
Spencer has taught at Bluff Ridge for 12 years, and for 21 years before that at Lincoln Elementary in Layton.
"It's nice to get up every morning and love what you do," she said. "I feel extremely lucky that I am able to say that."
Spencer originally wanted to be a nurse. She attended Arizona State University, where she studied nursing.
When she moved to Utah, she decided to take a different path and enrolled at Weber State, where she received a degree in education.
"I think I made the right decision," Spencer said of her career move.
She has taught the fourth grade for every one of her 33 years in the classroom.
"The kids are at a good age," she said. "They are independent and can do most things themselves, but you also have the opportunity to have an impact on them."
Spencer said the children she has taught over the years have had an enormous impact on her as well.
"I have loved teaching, and the kids are what I've enjoyed the most," she said. "I get graduation and wedding announcements from my old students, and those are the kinds of things that mean so much to me."
Spencer said when her current class found out about her award and the check she would receive along with it, the first thing they asked was how she would spend the money.
"I haven't quite decided on that yet," she said. "But I want to have some sort of special memory attached to it."