In Kristen Merrell's third grade class, it's usually all about pushing her students and herself to do more. 

"You're really only as good as the people you surround yourself with and I'm surrounded by awesome teachers in this district," said Merrell.

Merrell, who followed in the footsteps of her father who was a teacher, will represent the Lee's Summit R-7 School District as Teacher of the Year.  While her hard work has paid off, she said  the honor would be worthless if it weren't for the great group of students she's taught all year.

"It's a job where you have to do a lot of reflection every evening and think about what worked today, what maybe needs to be fixed tomorrow and how can I do those things," said Merrell.

Her students say her success is their success.

"From all my teachers and all my brother's teachers I think she is one of the best," said Grace Garrett, nine-years-old, a student in Merrell's class.

"Without learning being fun, nobody would want to learn more," said Dylan Biggs, nine-years-old, also one of Merrell's students.

Merrell said while the recognition is nice, it only makes her job more challenging because next year she's going to try even harder to help her students on their journey of learning.

"I think the recognition is awesome, but I think great teachers always want to be better the next year than they are this year; great teachers always want to be better tomorrow than they are today," said Merrell.

Merrell will compete for Missouri Teacher of the Year, but she's not the first R-7 teacher to do so.  An R-7 teacher has been a finalist for the state's Teacher of the Year five of the last six years, with one of them winning the award in 2009.