Linda Adamson can't help herself when it comes to teaching.
Moments after winning Maryland's educational "Oscar" -- the state Teacher of the Year Award -- someone complimented Mrs. Adamson on her beautifully colored dress.
And the fifth-grade teacher from Mayo Elementary School in Anne Arundel County smiled and began a new lesson in between congratulatory hugs and tears of joy.
"Actually, it's a blouse and skirt from Guatemala," she explained. "I bought it in Guatamala when I was there in July working on a literacy project. The top is called a huipil -- that's h-u-i-p-i-l. The embroidery pattern on the huipil is what identified the village you're from. The skirt is called a corte -- that's c-o-r-t-e -- and it's a single piece of fabric held together with a faja, which is a belt."
In her classroom in the southern part of the county, Mrs. Adamson wears a lot of clothing from Guatemala, she said, "so the children can see this is a real part of me and they can learn a lot from this rich, ancient culture."
As the winner, Mrs. Adamson was presented with a check for $2,000. She also becomes the state's nominee for national Teacher of the Year, to be chosen next spring.
Mrs. Adamson was among 23 teachers chosen as the best in their school districts, and she was among the seven finalists. Other finalists in the contest sponsored by the State Department of Education were from Baltimore, Carroll, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and Queen Anne's counties.
Before last night's ceremony at Martin's West in Woodlawn in Baltimore County, she said, she never dreamed she would win.
"I guess I have to stop saying 'This can't happen,' " Mrs. Adamson said.
When her name was called as the winner, she pressed her hands to her face in disbelief and began to cry. Anne Arundel School Superintendent Carol S. Parham, seated at the table with Mrs. Adamson, leaped out of her chair and hopped up and down with excitement.
Mrs. Adamson's parents, John and Sandy Stuntz, and her husband of 16 years, Wayne, also were in disbelief, proud but nearly speechless. The couple has four children and lives in Annapolis.
"We're just a mite excited," her father said. "She grew into this. God, we're blessed."
Her husband said, "She's the most brilliant person I've ever known."
Teaching is a second career for the 45-year-old Annapolis resident. A former computer programmer and systems analyst, she decided to begin teaching nine years ago. For six years she taught at St. Martin's Lutheran School, and three years ago went to work in the public school system at Mayo Elementary.
In the summers, she visits the Chichicastanango area of Guatemala to participate in a literacy project.
"I'm just so stunned," Mrs. Adamson said. "To have been chosen over all those other people who have been making contributions to students for so much longer than I have." She shook her head in disbelief.
But it was her classroom innovations that earned her the state's top award for teachers.
Her goal, she says, is to prepare her students to be successful 30-year-olds. How does a teacher do that?
In Mrs. Adamson's case, she lets the children sit on the floor and play card games and encourages them to describe difficult concepts to poor "Frizzle," a Guatemalan cartoon character she dreamed up who has a hard time with math and other subjects.
The card games? Just another way for the students to learn math. "Frizzle?" The students enjoy explaining what they've learned to him, she said.
As Russ Pellicot, a former student, explained it in a video shown at the ceremony, "It was sort of like she was forcing learning on us, but we had no idea."