A small group of children in Kristin Schaub's fifth-grade class at Havre de Grace Elementary School was getting ready to take the science portion of the annual Maryland School Assessment test recently, the last in the class to be tested.
Rather than a classroom on test day, the atmosphere in the classroom of Harford County Public Schools' Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 resembled that of the Ravens' locker room before a big game, where the group was surrounded by fellow students and educators cheering them on.
The students had already gotten themselves pumped up for class by watching – and dancing to – a brief "Purple Fridays" video starring the now-retired Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
"Before we send them off to do their best, we want to make sure we pump them up," Schaub explained, as the students held hands and formed a circle around the test-takers. Before class, Schaub described herself as a "die-hard" Ravens fan.
In the circle, the students also gave words of encouragement, such as "I know you guys will rock this test because you're smart."
Student Lyquel Trafton, 10, said Schaub is "a perfect teacher for me; I have learned a lot from her."
"When my team pumps me up I feel passionate," Lyquel continued. "I feel like I can do it."
Danielle Hartman, also 10, said the pumping up "helps you get your head in the game, and it helps you focus more.
The efforts to pump up students and incorporate music and dance into traditional classroom instruction are among the reasons Schaub was selected out of five finalists for HCPS' highest honor for teachers.
Danielle said her teacher deserved the award "because when we're learning something and somebody needs something, she's right there helping."
Schaub was announced as the latest Harford Teacher of the Year – much to her surprise – during the 19th annual awards banquet held March 27 at The Bayou Restaurant in Havre de Grace.
"It's still a little overwhelming," she said during a reporter's visit to her class two weeks after she received the honor. "I really have no remembrance from after they called my name."
The selection process
Schaub, who has been at Havre de Grace Elementary since the fall of 2004, was a finalist for the award along with Tara Buecker, a physical education and health teacher at Jarrettsville Elementary School, Laura Childs, an English teacher at Edgewood High School and Kimberly Harner and Kristine Jurgs, both special educators at Southampton Middle School in Bel Air.
"The other finalists, each of them were so amazing," she said.
The five finalists were selected by an HCPS panel of judges from a pool of 10 candidates who had been nominated by students, colleagues, members of the community and more.
After an interview process, the field was narrowed to five. Schaub said she did not know the candidates personally before going through the Teacher of the Year selection process.
"It's amazing how quickly you can bond with somebody, walking through this process," she said.
Schaub was nominated by her principal, Renee Villareal, who described her as "the kind of teacher that any parent would want to have for their child," and said she "represents all the great teaching that Harford County has to offer."
Villareal said she has worked in the school system for 22 years, and Schaub was the first person she's nominated for Teacher of the Year.