ELK GROVE, CA -Students call her Mrs. Songbird, but as much as music is a part of who Dianne Steiner is, her caring spirit is what her first graders will remember most.
Steiner's passion to make a difference started long ago.
"When I was child I used to pretend to teach in the basement of our house," she explained.
Even after 31 years in the classroom, Steiner said those childhood lessons influenced her path, especially when it came to reading.
"When I was a child, I struggled with that," Steiner said. "So, I wanted to make sure children coming out of first grade had a good start."
Steiner's Joseph Sims Elementary School classroom is far from ordinary. She tackles tough subjects with song.
Whether its bringing out her guitar for science or taking time out for Tai Chi, the longtime teacher has her five and six year olds mesmerized with music.
"She lets us sing, makes a lot of promises and never breaks her promises," said one of Steiner's students.
Steiner knows trust is as important as compassion, not only with her students, but also their parents.
"We have to be empathic to the struggles of our parents who have had to relocate living with extended family or out of a job," Steiner explained.
A warm hug, patience and understanding is part of package for the woman who said she feels connected to her students.
"Children need to feel safe and encouraged I basically see myself as their cheerleader."
Steiner'sconnection to her students keeps her coming back, witheach year ending the same as the last - with a song.
"It says fly away, fly away and I cry so hard to end my year, but thats how I let them go and then I receive another batch of little songbirds."