Terry Eberhardt was preparing for the worst when he walked into the band room at Marriotts Ridge High School Wednesday afternoon. He had been told that there was an emergency concerning his looming band competition in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"I thought, 'What did we do?'" he recalled.
Instead, he was pleasantly surprised by a room full of cheering co-workers, students and high-ranking school system officials. Eberhardt displayed a huge smile when he realized that he had won the 2008 Howard County Teacher of the Year award.
"I had absolutely no idea," said Eberhardt, 30, a music teacher and choral director who has worked at the school for three years.
Eberhardt, who received $4,000 with the award, beat out teachers from across the county. He will represent Howard at the state level with hopes of making it to the national Teacher of the Year competition.
"This is one of the most prestigious awards for our teachers," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. "I know you will do a fine job of representing Howard County teachers."
The half-hour gathering included testimonials from parents, students and staff at the school.
Principal Pat Saunderson read some of the adjectives that were used to describe Eberhardt in nominating letters: passionate, committed, enthusiastic, amazing, kind, friendly and incredible.
Stephanie Lee, 18, a senior and student conductor of the Madrigals, a singing group led by Eberhardt, cried when she spoke about her beloved teacher.
"Thank you for everything you've ever done," she said just before the Madrigals performed a song dedicated to Eberhardt. "Thank you for being an inspiration for everyone you've ever taught."
Lee, who has worked with Eberhardt since she was a freshman, wrote a nominating letter.
"He's probably the most passionate, giving person I've ever met," she said.
Eberhardt, who holds bachelor's degrees in education and vocal performance from the Johns Hopkins University's Peabody Conservatory, and a master's degree in opera from University of Maryland, College Park, says teaching is a natural fit.
"I feel like it is an opportunity for me to perform and it also allows me to watch them learn," the Laurel resident said. "I've had some really, really inspirational teachers. I wanted to give back."
Laura Bejm, a special education teacher at the school, said Eberhardt is always willing to include her students in his daily classes.
"He's a really great part of the school," she said. "He's an all-around wonderful person."
Eberhardt's mother, Lucy, beamed with admiration through most of the presentation.
"He deserves all of it," she said. "I always knew that he would be good at anything he did."
'The fun part'
Cousin's visit to Marriotts Ridge was his fifth stop Wednesday. He made similar presentations to surprise employees for a slew of county-wide superlative honors.
"This is the fun part of my job," Cousin said.
This year's winners included: Diana Alvarado, a social studies teacher at River Hill High, who won the First Year Educator Award; Kathleen Koehnlein, a secretary at Wilde Lake High, who won the Office Professionals Award; Kelly Horan, a teacher at Reservoir High, who won The Washington Post Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award; Pamela Wilburn of Fulton Elementary, who won the Distinguished Assistant Award; and Russell Wise of Phelps Luck Elementary, who won the Custodial and Grounds Service Award.
The winners and all the nominees will be honored May 13 at the annual "In Celebration of Excellence" ceremony. The event will be held at 4:30 p.m. in Wilde Lake High's Jim Rouse Theater.