Kristin Covaleskie hid her face behind her long, brown hair as her principal, the Baltimore schools CEO and an entourage of administrators, fellow teachers and media streamed into her classroom yesterday and interrupted her lesson.
The principal, Edward English, came bearing a bouquet of lilies, roses and daisies. The schools chief, Andres Alonso, had his hands full with a basket containing - among other goodies - a new laptop computer and a digital camera. He kissed Covaleskie on the cheek.
"Do you have the best teacher in the city?" Alonso asked the class of squealing, cheering fourth-graders at Northwood Elementary as their teacher learned that she is Baltimore's Teacher of the Year.
School districts around the nation are honoring their best teachers this week, Teacher Appreciation Week. In Maryland, each districtwide Teacher of the Year will compete in the statewide competition, and the statewide winner will go on to the nationals.
Covaleskie, 32, is the second teacher from Northwood to win the city's competition in the past three years. A 12-year veteran of the city schools who began student-teaching while attending Goucher College, she has taught kindergarten through fourth grade.
A selection committee including school system and teachers union representatives as well as two former winners chose Covaleskie from seven applicants. A teacher can be nominated for the award by an administrator, colleague or community member, but an application must be submitted with three letters of recommendation. Candidates must have at least five years of teaching experience and must plan to continue teaching next school year, requirements that disqualified two applicants.
The committee interviewed Covaleskie last week and observed her teaching Friday. She said she had not heard anything since then and did not suspect she was the winner, even after it was announced Monday that Alonso would be visiting the school yesterday and might be accompanied by cameras.
The Butchers Hill resident blushed as she told the crowd in her room that she has the "greatest job in the world. ... Doing my job is easy, because I love it so very much."
Nancy Neilson, the administrator in charge of the award program, said that despite the small number of applicants, "Kristin was clearly the front-runner. She was head and shoulders above the rest."
At Northwood, Covaleskie teaches the most academically advanced class of fourth-graders, trying to instill in them a sense of social responsibility. She has also chaired the school improvement team and served as a mentor for student interns from Morgan State University and as an adviser for the Baltimore City Teaching Residency program.
Some of her 21 students gave impromptu speeches about her yesterday. They said they love her, because "she's awesome," "she makes sure we know how to do our work and get good grades and will go to college" and "she's there when we hurt."
Another fourth-grade teacher at Northwood, Tyrese Rice, looked on with tears and a video camera. Rice had caught on to the surprise and came to school with a cake, balloons and spa gift certificate for her friend and mentor, who also received $1,000, museum memberships and dinner for two at some of the city's best restaurants as part of her award.
Rice got her start in teaching with Covaleskie mentoring her as a student intern from Morgan, which has a partnership with Northwood. "Everyone at Morgan would fight to get her" as their mentor teacher, Rice said. "She's known to be a great teacher, and you just want to work hard for her."