Reynoldsburg teacher Rita Crego's love of books and history led to a teaching career, but a deep love for her students led her to a 2018 Teachers of the Year award.
"There are a lot of things I love about my job, but first of all, I love the kids," said Crego, a first-grade teacher at Taylor Road Elementary School. "I love teaching little first-graders how to read and seeing them grow into independent readers throughout the year. And I love exposing them to different authors."
Crego, 48, is the elementary school winner in the Columbus Parent/ThisWeek Community News 2018 Teachers of the Year awards. She was honored at a May 10 assembly at the school.
"I was shocked to learn I had won," she said. "I was able to keep the tears back until I saw my husband and my mom in the audience. These are the two biggest supporters in my teaching career."
Crego is "extremely dedicated to her students," Principal Jamie Johnson said. "She devotes many hours outside of the school day creating experiences for them that are not only rigorous academically, but create an excitement about learning.
"Each and every child she teaches leaves her room a better person and student for having had her as their teacher," Johnson said.
For this year's Teachers of the Year contest, readers nominated educators from school districts all over central Ohio. Nominations were taken online from Jan. 3 to Feb. 14. The editorial staffs from Columbus Parent and ThisWeek chose 15 finalists and put them up for a public vote March 5 through April 2.
Three winners were chosen: one each at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
Fellow teacher Kristi Calkins, whose three children have been taught by Crego, nominated her for the award.
"Kids don't just learn from her, they are given the base for living a life of loving learning," Calkins wrote. "She goes above and beyond in each subject she teaches to make it relevant and fun."
Crego has taught in Reynoldsburg schools for 25 years -- the past eight at Taylor Road. She previously spent 15 years at the former Graham Road Elementary School and two years at Slate Ridge Elementary School.
She graduated from Ohio State University in 1992 with a bachelor of science degree in elementary education and earned her master's in teaching and learning from Ohio State in 2003.
"I decided to become a teacher because education was always valued in my family," Crego said. "My mother instilled in me the love of books. She is still my greatest supplier of children's books for my classroom.
"My father instilled a love for math," she said. "He can still to this day compute math facts in his head faster than any of his college-educated children."
Crego and her husband, Bill, live in Mary Ann Township near Newark. They have two children, Rachel, 10, and Luke, 8.
The longtime educator said her main goal is to teach her first-graders to "love their neighbor, because this transcends any subject matter."
"Academically, my goal is to get them reading," she said. "I want them to gain confidence in their reading skills. In math, I want them to memorize their addition and subtraction facts.
"It is great to have strategies for counting things out, but that will never be as good as memorizing them."
She also enjoys lessons on American history.
"I love teaching them about the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell and Mount Rushmore," she said. "We also try to memorize the presidents of the United States. This year, I had 18 students memorize them."
The job is not without its challenges, however.
"It is hard to fit in everything you need to teach in a year and still feel like you are doing it justice," she said. "It also is challenging to try to meet the individual needs of every student."
Crego said mentors paved her way as an educator.
"The person I consider my greatest mentor was my first administrator, the principal at Graham Road Elementary, Mary Jane Underwood," she said. "She hired me with no experience and just a whole lot of ideas. She taught me to work hard at my job by watching her example. She also said to 'pick your battles' and I always remember that when an issue arises."