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Eastwood’s Amber Nichols, the state Teacher of Year, gives a lesson on her life and times

When the lieutenant colonel’s wife speaks, and you’re in a military town, you listen.

Especially if said spouse is an experienced colleague – and it’s your first day on the job as a teacher.

Your first day ever, as a teacher.

The first day on the job in any profession is generally a pretty memorable day.

It’s especially memorable, if you happen to be a teacher and you didn’t sign up for education as an undergraduate degree in college.

All those eyes looking at you in the front of the classroom.

The first day as an educator for Amber Nichols may have been a little more memorable than most.

It was Sept. 11, 2001.

America was under siege and she was far away from her hometown of West Union, Doddridge County. She was in Yuma, Ariz., in fact, and a classroom full of kindergartners awaited.

Her husband, Aaron, was waiting too.

He was soldier, posted at Yuma’s Marine Corps Air Station – and the newlywed husband didn’t know if he was being deployed to a war zone overseas that very second.

All while, his newlywed wife was trying to stay focused on the lesson plan.

These days, Amber Nichols is in Morgantown, where she and Aaron eventually settled to raise a family after following country roads back to careers in the Mountain State.

Now, she’s teaching a new generation of kindergarteners at Eastwood Elementary School.

Monday, she turned WVU’s Erickson Alumni Center into a classroom, which included a roll call of President Gordon Gee and Autumn Tooms Cypres, the dean of the university’s College of Applied Human Sciences.

Nichols talked a little about her life and times, and that professional journey that led her from Arizona, for that first-ever day as a teacher – to West Virginia, where she was named state Teacher of the Year in Charleston last month.

Nichols was a teacher without necessarily realizing it, at first.

She studied broadcasting in school, but she didn’t want to be a reporter – she wanted to work in children’s programming at PBS.

Either way, said DeAnn Hartshorn, her principal at Eastwood, she’s a communicator.

Nichols makes instant connections with her students and their parents and caregivers, Hartshorn said – “It’s her superpower.”

As she picked up her Teacher of the Year plaque in Charleston last month, Nichols talked about super-peers – as in the aforementioned lieutenant colonel’s wife, who brought light to a dark day 21 years ago.

They weren’t only faculty members at Ronald Reagan Elementary married to people in uniform at the Marine Corps station.

When the principal said the school would cover the classrooms of anyone who needed to get things in order at home for a possible deployment, the spouse of the lieutenant colonel spoke up.

“She said, ‘We got each other,’ Nichols recalled. “‘We need to be with our kids, so we can help them through this.’”

“‘We need to be with our kids.’ That’s been my mantra ever since.”