As Howard County Teacher of the Year, Hammond's Jody Zepp will represent the county at state education events next year.
She describes the award and the recognition as "overwhelming," but Zepp is looking forward to something else even more.
"I'm looking forward to getting back to my students and teaching my new two AP classes [next year] and having this wonderful learning together and continuing to increase their critical thinking skills," she said. "It's not about dispensing truth, it's about seeking truth together."
Zepp was named Howard County Teacher of the Year in April.
A psychology and government teacher at Hammond High School for the past five years, Zepp previously taught in the Montgomery County Public Schools system for seven years.
Zepp launched Hammond's Academy of Government, Law and Public Relation, one of just two in the county.
During the 2014-15 school year, the program will add new courses, including two taught by Zepp.
"I can't wait to get into the classroom to see what she is doing," said Hammond Assistant Principal Nicole Harryman.
Harryman, who initiated Zepp's application for the Agnes Meyer Award as county teacher of the year, describes Zepp as "all business," but at the same time, she is someone who students trust and know they can go to.
"The thing is, she loves what she's doing," Harryman said. "We won the jackpot when we got her on board."
A family of teachers
Zepp hails from a family of teachers.
Her father, Ira Zepp Jr., was a professor at what is now McDaniel College and was influential in desegragation in Westminster and throughout Carroll Country. Zepp's mother, Mary, was an elementary school teacher. Both parents are deceased.
Her sister, Karen, is a music teacher at Bryant Woods Elementary School in Columbia and her brother, Alan, is an English teacher at Westminster High School.
According to her sister, Zepp is "one of a kind" in the classroom.
"She has this uncanny ability to reach every student, no matter what ethnicity or level of ability," Karen Zepp said. "She's extremely passionate and dedicated about what she does."
Zepp, in her 11th year at Bryant Woods, said her parents are the primary reason she and her siblings entered the profession.
"Since we grew up around it, we saw how our parents could impact the students," she said. "Just being surrounded by that and seeing how you can influence people to learn and inspire a love of learning, it's powerful."
For Jody, it's emotional to talk about her parents' impact on her career.
"They would have been thrilled," she said, holding back tears.
When discussing her teaching philosophy, Zepp is demonstrative with her hand motions, setting the bar here with her hand in the air before bumping it up a little bit.
"Out of the gate, they know that if they need to be here, I'm going to be here," she says, motioning with her hands. "Immediately, it sounds like yikes to them, but soon enough they know that I am walking with them every step of the way."
She describes her career as one that she "really lives and breathes."
"They [students] know that I want them to learn and I do what it takes for them to get to where they need to be," she said.
Harryman was involved in Zepp's interview five years ago and recognized how knowledgeable Zepp was about her profession.
"Right away, I could tell this particular person is someone who is really dedicated to the profession," she said. "She is such a solid teacher all around."
Zepp was presented with the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award April 11 at Hammond by Superintendent Renee Foose.
But it wasn't without some trickery by her students.
During a class where students were learning about the sociological research done by Stanley Milgram and Solomon Asch on conformity, a voice from the main office boomed through the loud speaker, saying simply, "Milgram Asch."
Shortly thereafter, Zepp's students got up from their seats and asked if they left in unison would it insubordination or conformity. Thinking this was a joke, Zepp first went back to teaching and then tried to call the main office before eventually following her students to the school choir room where she was presented with the award.
For Zepp, the recognition has been "overwhelming."
"Who seeks this in teaching when it's a vocation and a calling. I sought a way to serve and that is why I am in the classroom," she said.
Zepp said she hasn't fully embraced the idea that she is teacher of the year since the last day of school isn't until June 20.
"It's an honor," she said of the award. "How do you articulate being honored for that which gets you up every morning."