TEACHER Wendy Martin

Assumption High School science teacher Wendy Martin is one of five finalists in the top teacher contest on the "Live! With Kelly" talk show. Martin will be flown to New York City to appear on the show, which will air May 18. The winner will be announced May 22. If she wins, she would receive a 2013 Ford Fusion and the Davenport school would receive a $25,000 cash prize. (Kevin E. Schmidt/QUAD-CITY TIMES)

Kevin E. Schmidt

At the end of the school day, the only “student” left behind in Wendy Martin’s classroom Tuesday was a skeleton wearing a Catholic rosary necklace.

But several students were hanging around in the hallways, all praising 42-year-old Martin, who found out that morning she is one of five national finalists in the “Top Teacher Search” contest on ABC’s “LIVE! with Kelly” morning talk show.

She learned about her ranking by watching Kelly Ripa’s show during class Tuesday, anticipating the announcement.

“We all started screaming and jumping up and down,” Martin said, adding that social media helped encourage people to vote for her online.

“This is the most amazing thing, especially knowing that a student nominated me,” she said.

“You can hear you’re doing a good job from an administrator or a co-worker, but when it comes from a student, that’s the best thing possible. It’s an incredible honor.”

She was nominated by a former student, Abby Greufe, who graduated last year. She wrote a letter about Martin to the show’s producers.

Martin said she didn’t know anything about the contest until last week, when school officials announced that an Assumption teacher would be mentioned on the air as part of the top 12. Even then, she had no idea who that teacher might be, she said.

“I figured whoever it was would have known already,” she said.

So, when Martin found out it was her, she was shocked.

A teacher at Assumption for the past 13 years, Martin is known for her enthusiasm in her biology, Advanced Placement biology and anatomy and physiology classes.

She initially went to school to become a national parks ranger, but things changed in her life, and she went back to school to become a teacher. She loves her job and the students, she said.

Mingling in the hallway at the end of the school day, several students chimed in with praise for Martin, whom freshman Monica Copeland described as their favorite teacher.

“Yeah, she’s so fun,” added Grace Krommenhoek. “She’s makes class fun.”

Freshman Nick Merschman said Martin “gets into her class” and makes it fun for the students. He and his friend, Alex Donahue, raved about Martin’s annual “DNA Day” party, which she holds in class on the anniversary of two scientists’ creating the double-helix DNA model.

“It’s fun to make a big deal about it,” Martin said later about the celebration. “And the kids remember it. We have a party and cake, and they extract DNA from their cheeks.”

That activity mentioned in Greufe’s nomination letter about Martin, which also details how the teacher’s leadership of the high school’s blood drive affected her own family when Martin’s 3-year-old son lost his arm in a riding lawn mowing accident.

He received donated blood and lived through the ordeal, and Martin turned her son’s experiences into lessons for her students, the letter says.

“Paired with the twinkling-eyed recollections of his humorous mannerisms and love of Spiderman, Mrs. Martin taught us about the challenges that Nate was overcoming each day,” Greufe wrote. “Explaining both the effect of balance, and the workings of a prosthetic arm, she personally explained his condition in a scientific manner. It was not only eye-opening, but a sense of awe and respect for both Nate and his wonderful mom was seen on each and every student’s face.”

Standing in her classroom, Martin said she never has visited New York City or appeared on national television, so she’s very nervous and excited about flying out May 13 and appearing on TV.

“But I’ll be back in time for the seniors’ last day of school,” she added with a smile, “so at least I’ll get to see them.”

It’s all about the students.


Davenport Assumption's Wendy Martin is named a top teacher finalist on "Live With Kelly."