National educator award catches teacher off guard

Recognition: Lutherville Laboratory instructor Deidre Austen receives her $25,000 honor in a surprise announcement.

October 15, 2004|By Kevin T. McVey | Kevin T. McVey,SUN STAFF

A surprised teacher at a Baltimore County elementary school became $25,000 richer yesterday when she received a Milken Educator Award.

Deidre Austen, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher, settled her class on the floor of Lutherville Laboratory school's gym for an assembly purportedly recognizing the school's recent designation as a Green School -- a school that has become aware of environmental problems in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, presented Austen with the prize at the assembly and caught her and nearly the entire school off guard with the announcement.

Shedding tears and accepting the check, Austen told her pupils how stunned she was.

"I would probably say this is in the dictionary under the definition of surprise," Austen explained to pupils at the assembly.

Austen, 37, began her teaching career 14 years ago. She has taught in Harford and Baltimore counties. For the past six years, she has worked at Lutherville Laboratory.

Austen said the award was a shock because the only recognition she seemed to have received in the past was from her appreciative pupils, and also because she knows there are other teachers in the school who work as hard as she does.

"The most I have received in the past were cards from my students for the holidays or some of them writing `Teacher of the Year' on their cards," Austen said. "There are so many people who come in at 7 in the morning and leave at 8 at night, so it could have been anyone else here."

Before the presentation, Grasmick told the pupils about the award. She asked them how much money should be given to the winning teacher. Amounts of $25, then $250 and then $2,500 received boisterous shouts of "No" from the pupils until Grasmick finally announced a sum of $25,000.

Former and current pupils of Austen's were excited that their favorite teacher received the award and gave their reasons why.

"She lets us do projects with our friends instead of reading from a book, which makes class more fun," said Min Lee, a fifth-grader who was a pupil of Austen's last school year.

Fourth-grader Janie Brown, a pupil of Austen's this year, said, "It's impossible not to like her because she's just really, really, really nice."

Austen is one of two Maryland teachers to receive the award among Maryland's 58,000 educators. She is also just one of the 100 teachers in the United States to receive the award this year.

Since 1985, the Milken Family Foundation has recognized teachers for dedication and excellence in teaching. The foundation's stated goals are to expand recognition for talented teachers on a national level. Those recognized must be recommended by principals, colleagues and co-workers.

Austen will not receive the monetary award until the Milken Annual Conference in Washington in April. The grant can be used any way Austen wishes.

Kathy Poff, principal of Lutherville Laboratory, who has known Austen for four years, said, "Students want to do their best when they have a class with her because she motivates them and offers them creative opportunities to learn."

Ed Austen, 37, Deidre's husband, received a call at 9:15 a.m. from the school telling him his wife would receive the award that morning. He raced to the school but once there made sure to stay out of his wife's sight.

At a small reception after the presentation, Ed Austen said, "She's one of the regulars who get to school early and then get home late sometimes. She interacts with kids all day and then comes home to two kids of her own. It's amazing to watch her patience with them."

Deidre Austen said she knows she wants to share the money by doing something with her two children and then using it to help the school.

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