Amherst teacher rewarded by Ellen DeGeneres for making a difference

AMHERST – Viewers who watch “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” regularly are used to seeing her give away computers, cars, cash and other prizes.

“Ellen the Generous” celebrates unsung heroes, such as those who rescue animals, help accident or disaster victims, community volunteers and people who overcome challenges and succeed. She seems to have a special place in her heart for military families and teachers.

Amanda Eaton, a first-grade teacher from Wilkins School in Amherst, was recently on the receiving end of DeGeneres’ generosity. She was in the audience for the May 29 show, and had no idea that she was about to be called to the stage to be honored for her selflessness and that she would leave with $55,000.

It’s no secret that Eaton is a big fan of the show and has dreamed of meeting DeGeneres someday. The parent of one of her students wrote a letter asking DeGeneres to give a shout-out to Eaton, who, in addition to nurturing the youngsters at school, has just donated a kidney to her father. She is also a semifinalist for New Hampshire Teacher of the Year.

The letter succeeded in getting DeGeneres’ attention, and several surprises were planned. After Eaton was summoned to join her onstage, DeGeneres showed a brief video made by staff and students at Wilkins, all praising Eaton’s attitude and generosity.

“She treats all of her students, including my boys, like they’re her own children,” said Kris McCool, a parent and fellow teacher.

Her son, Matthew, agreed, saying, “She’s just so energetic, and she cares a lot about all of her students.”

DeGeneres said she was impressed because teachers often call parents when their children do something wrong, but Eaton calls parents when they do something right.

“I have the luxury of being with people’s children more than they do during the workweek,” Eaton responded. She told DeGeneres she makes the calls because “parents don’t hear that they’re doing a good job, and to be able to say, ‘You have an awesome kiddo and you’re doing a great job,’ and share the good.”

DeGeneres described Eaton as “the teacher you want your kid to have,” and said it was amazing that she not only notices good behavior and calls parents, but she also spends time with students outside school.

With a little prompting, Eaton told the story of taking a special girl to lunch once she was no longer in her class. The girl was reluctant to eat her pizza, and eventually revealed she was saving it so she would have leftovers to bring home to feed her family.

Eaton and her husband, David, ordered extra food so the girl could have plenty to share.

Besides lunch dates with former students, Eaton routinely spends her own money on supplies for the classroom and snacks for children who need them. She said she doesn’t keep track, but half of her grocery cart each week is for school.

To acknowledge this selflessness, DeGeneres presented her with a stack of cash wrapped in a pretty bow, totaling $5,000.

Eaton already felt overwhelmed from meeting one of her idols and being surprised by all of the attention, but the best was yet to come after the commercial break.

As part of a new partnership with Wells Fargo called Small Is Huge, DeGeneres then presented Eaton with a check for $50,000.

“It is so important to give back,” DeGeneres said. “Unless I had you on the show, people would not know what you do. The parents are lucky to have their kids in your class.”

Eaton said she plans to pay off her student loans and help her parents with a new roof and repairs needed on their home.

“I’ve already paid it forward,” she said. “There were a couple of charities I’ve wanted to donate to and did, once I knew the money was coming.”

And what do the folks back home think about this?

“We’re trying to be low key, but it really is a big deal,” Principal Gerry St. Amand said. “We share in her recognition and how this has brought out a lot of positive attention, and are very happy for her. One of her goals was to meet Ellen, and she always strives to meet her goals. We’re happy to claim her as our own.”

Eaton has heard from numerous families and former students, and said she feels blessed by the outpouring of support. Most of all, she is glad to be able to return to the classroom, where she belongs. She had to take time to recover from the transplant surgery and said it felt odd to not be in school during May.

Her medical leave has just ended, and on May 28, the day before the “Ellen” episode aired, the Teacher of the Year interview committee was at Wilkins to observe her in the classroom and to speak with staff and parents.

To watch a video of Eaton’s appearance on the “Ellen” show, visit
. To watch
behind-the-scenes footage of Eaton’s interview after the show, visit

Irene Labombarde can be reached at 714-5802 or ilabombarde@nashua