This Spring, University of Arizona Athletics continues their tradition of honoring a grade school teacher in Southern Arizona.

One of nine worthy nominees will be given the title of Teacher of the Year; we want you to meet all of this year’s candidates.

In this visit, we meet Michelle Tozer and joined her 10th grade Biology class at Empire High School.

At one point in class, it was time to test our taste buds. “You ever have cilantro before?” Tozer asked one of her students. “You might not thank me in just a little bit.”

Mrs. Tozer hands out a sprig of cilantro to each of her sophomores to see if they have the gene mutation that makes this herb taste like soap. “We can all have a piece of the same thing to eat,” she tells the students, “but each one of us is going to experience it a little different, and a lot of that does come down to our genes.”

Early in her career, Tozer said, she knew she wanted to teach. She got her start in a middle-school classroom on a Tucson Unified School District campus, but not long after, she found an even bigger opportunity.

“(My family and I) lived in Vail,” she said, “and I also wanted to teach high school. I wanted to teach biology. So a position open up here at Empire… I decided, ‘Alright! I’m ready to take the big jump!'”

In her Biology class, Tozer walks students through the experiments, so that when they come back as upperclassmen for Anatomy and Physiology, they have a strong foundation of knowledge.

“It’s even more more rewarding when I see it with my students and they’re like, ‘I get why you did this with us in biology,'” she said, “because now we’re doing it here. It gives them a lot more confidence. They feel respected, like she’s kind of starting to treat us like we’re older like we are.”

Tozer said she knows it’s not the easiest material to digest. That’s why she also takes time to help students like Caty Thayer with their homework, or even with some heart-to-heart conversations.

“If a student is going through a hard time, she helps them up,” Thayer said, “and she’s really sweet about it as well. She’ll say ‘Hi’ to (us) in the halls. She’s just a nice person inside the classroom and outside the classroom.”

It’s that kindness and knowledge that Empire High School and Vail School District leaders say makes Tozer a worthy candidate for Teacher of the Year. “To have that additional recognition,” she said, “it’s really humbling and very honoring all at the same time, because I know I’m standing with an amazing group of people.”

KGUN 9 will share more profiles of more awesome teachers this month.

UA Athletics will reveal this year’s winner at the Wildcat men’s basketball game Mar. 2 against Oregon.