It was relatively quiet Wednesday morning in Carver Vocational-Technical High School's Room 263. Students filled out worksheets about the book "Persepolis," as English teacher LaQuisha Hall moved through the room to offer instructions.
Then, members of Hall's family and city schools officials burst through the classroom doors carrying colorful balloons and flowers. Almost immediately, the room erupted in applause: Schools CEO Sonja Santelises told Hall she had been named Baltimore's 2018 Teacher of the Year.
"You do it all," Santelises told Hall.
Hall has taught at Carver since 2015, and founded a mentoring program for young women more than a decade ago. Her students say she's instilled in them a sense of confidence, while also pushing them to work hard and stay focused both inside and outside the classroom.
"She always tells us, 'Never let your crown tilt, always have it positioned,'" said 15-year-old Milica Taggart, who participates in the guidance program, called Queendom T.E.A. "Ms. Hall is more than a teacher to me. She's my mentor."
Hall said she's honored to represent a group of educators who are doing "such hard work" in the city. She said she hopes to remind teachers that they must take time for themselves.
"It's not an easy feat, when you see the things our kids are facing," she said. "It's important for us to practice self-care. You can't pour from an empty cup."
Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English said the honor is well-deserved.
"Mrs. Hall not only extends herself to her students, but also to her colleagues to ensure they make time for self-care so they are equipped to teach their students effectively," she said.
Hall led a handful of her English students in publishing a book last year called, "A City Unspoken: A Dose of Our Reality."
Her "passionate commitment to giving students a voice, to empowering them to believe in their right to make their voices heard, and to helping them develop the necessary skills to share their voices is evident in everything she does," Santelises said.
Hall will receive a cash prize and classroom supplies provided through the Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke Endowment Fund at the Fund for Educational Excellence, and will also throw out the first pitch at the May 10 Orioles game.
Hall now advances to the statewide Teacher of the Year competition.