Middle school teachers don't often get 15 minutes of fame.
But Elizabeth Heli got hers Tuesday when Gov. Rick Scott named her in his State of the State address.
"Please join me in a round of applause to honor her service," Scott said, acknowledging Heli, an engineering teacher at Greco Middle in Temple Terrace, as he made his pitch to award $2,500 pay raises to educators across the state. The increases are one of Scott's top budget priorities.
The idea has received a lukewarm reception from Republican lawmakers, many of whom would rather see the dollars distributed through a performance-pay system, like the one about to kick in statewide next year.
Teachers have mixed feelings, too. Some consider the $2,500 increase too little, too late — and say the move is nothing more than a stunt meant to improve Scott's dismal approval rating.
Heli, 32, said she would welcome the extra cash.
"You never turn down $2,500," she said, musing that she might use the money for a down payment on a new car, or to buy more supplies for her classroom. "You don't go into teaching for the money. But anything would be helpful."
In many ways, Heli represents Scott's idea of a perfect teacher. She left her career as an electrical engineer seven years ago to teach engineering to pre-teens. Outside of the classroom, she runs programs to engage girls in subject areas like robotics.
Scott has traveled the state touting the importance of the science, technology, engineering and math curriculum known as STEM. Last month, he honored Heli with the Governor's Shine Award for excellence in education.
Heli had no clue she would be mentioned in the State of the State speech until Scott's office called last week. She took Tuesday off from work, leaving her students to build balsa-wood bridges and play with robots.
Her shout-out lasted only a moment, but Heli received a standing ovation.
"It's an honor," she said, still a little star-struck after the speech wrapped up. "There are so many great teachers in the state of Florida. Being picked felt fantastic."
Heli said it was too soon to say if the pay raises would win over teachers, especially in light of earlier cuts to education spending and the state's controversial performance-pay legislation.
Heli voted for Scott in 2010, and said she would consider supporting him for re-election.
"I'm happy to see a focus on education," she said.