TAMPA — The day for Greco Middle School teacher Angela Keller Markle began like any other. There was planning in first period, then post-exam craziness in second.
But when she entered the cafeteria for third period lunch, the surprises started coming: a cloud of silly string, hugs from the superintendent and then, a giant check for $10,000.
Before a crowd of cheering students, Keller was given this year's We Deliver award. It's the eighth of its kind for the Hillsborough County School District, recognizing employees who exceed expectations.
In Keller's case, that means providing food or clothing for her students, said superintendent MaryEllen Elia. She also involves her students in public service activities at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital and for Henry's Angels, a charity she formed in memory of her husband, Henry Markle.
"Her students are her children," Elia said. "She feels a genuine obligation to include them in her life."
The award was a bittersweet milestone for the 37-year-old Keller, whose husband died of cancer in 2007, before they could start a family.
She told the students, "You guys are the reason why I get up every day and come to work."
Later she spoke of the financial stress she experienced after her husband's illness and death. In addition to supporting herself, there are expenses that come with teaching in a high-poverty school. More than half her students don't have notebooks, she said.
Some of the $10,000 will help pay bills and some will be spent on the kids, she said.
A district employee since 2005, Keller started her career at Greco and never considered anything other than middle school.
She remembers her own middle school years in Fort Myers, when she felt self-conscious as a chubby child who wore glasses and played in the band. One teacher there made her feel welcome, she said, and she has always modeled herself after him.
She knew her sister nominated her for the award. She never expected to win.
"I'm really stunned," she said.
Surrounded by district leaders in the crowded cafeteria, she lost her composure at first. She trembled. She dabbed at her eyes. Then, when asked to address the students, she said, "I guess I'll start the way I start my classes every day.
"Good afternoon, beautiful people."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.