Baltimore Schools chief Sonja Santelises made a surprise visit to a Roland Park Elementary School classroom this afternoon and flipped on a light to get teacher Justin Holbrook's attention.
She had some news to announce: Holbrook is Teacher of the Year.
"I was a little bit stunned and shocked and didn't know what to say....almost emotional overload," Holbrook said.
His students did know what to do.
"They started chanting and cheering and running over to tackle me," he said.
Holbrook, a fourth grade math and science teacher, isn't the only elementary school teacher in the area to get the special designation. Rebecca Eig, a second grade teacher at Owings Mills Elementary School, was named the Teacher of the Year for Baltimore County a week ago.
Both teachers were praised by school administrators for their creativity and energy in the classroom.
Holbrook, a previous finalist for Teacher of the Year, has taught at Roland Park since 2010. He said he tries to make classes engaging by integrating the arts into his lessons, as well as requiring students to do more projects than worksheets.
He has been featured in a national documentary on using brain science and the arts to teach. He was nominated for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the nation's highest honors for teachers of mathematics and science, and was recognized for his instruction in gifted education.
Despite the past honors, he may be best known for his use of twitter. Two years ago he started a twitter education chat with the hashtag #BmoreEdchat to discuss teaching and other education topics.
Holbrook got his bachelor's degree in elementary education from Goucher College and will receive a master's degree in educational leadership from Loyola University later this month.
Eig began teaching at Owings Mills seven years ago. She has been a professional development school mentor there, a reading committee member, and a community involvement committee member. She's a graduate of Towson University, where she got a bachelor's degree in early childhood education and a master's in instructional technology.
Eig decided in the first-grade that she wanted to become a first grade teacher when she grew up. A particularly warm and engaging first grade teacher who offered Eig reassurance during a difficult time in her life made a lasting impression on her.
"She never once made me feel as an outcast. She always made me feel like someone," Eig said.
Eig attempts to foster the same atmosphere in her own classroom. She said she wants "to create that classroom environment where kids believe they can succeed" and where students wake up with enthusiasm about going to school.
"I can only do so much with math, reading and science. It is their job to trust me and believe me," she said.
She constantly tells them that they are cared about and are part of a big classroom family.
She received the Teacher of the Year award at a ceremony at George Washington Carver Center for the Arts and Technology in Towson.
Eig and Holbrook will now compete against Teacher of the Year winners from each county in the state for the Maryland State Teacher of the Year for 2017-2018. Last year, a Baltimore city art teacher was Maryland Teacher of the Year and a finalist for the national designation.