WESLEY CHAPEL — Kathryn Bylsma stood at the front of her John Long Middle School classroom Monday morning and held up the plaque she received as Pasco County's teacher of the year.
"I share this with you because this is yours," Bylsma, 49, told the students. "I can't do this if you don't do what you do."
The students congratulated her on the award. No hugs, though — Bylsma's "not a hugger," they all know.
They said she deserved the honor.
"She makes us think in different ways instead of just making us read a textbook," said Casey Chitty, 11. "She's hands on."
Alex Van Hulle, also 11, called Bylsma "funny" and said she makes learning fun.
"She gives us good opportunities," said Jonah Arfons, 11.
Principal Beth Brown had a feeling Bylsma would win the award before the announcement came. But when it happened, the district cemented what Brown had known all along: "She's so valuable."
"Her knowledge of science is immeasurable, and her worth is immeasurable," Brown said.
Bylsma laughed at the notion of getting so much attention for doing her job.
"It pays to be a nerd," she said, after receiving congratulations and a brief hug from consumer science teacher Andi Walker.
A former student e-mailed Bylsma to see if she will get a special parking space as a prize. Bylsma joked about that, too, saying she wouldn't use it if offered one.
"If in the event there is a designated space," she said, "we're going to auction it off for Relay for Life."
Though admittedly "stunned" and "overwhelmed" by the recognition, Bylsma aimed to stay focused on school issues even amid the well-wishing.
Before classes Monday, she spent more time talking with other teachers about how to get students to better understand the scientific method, for instance, than celebrating and greeting those who cheered her on.
Science teacher Darcy Cleek, who nominated Bylsma for the award, said she would do what it takes to get Bylsma further accolades.
"Bylsma is an out-of-the-box thinker," Cleek said. "She's so concerned and compassionate about helping today's students meet tomorrow's problems."
Bylsma shuddered at the thought of completing more paperwork to compete for Florida teacher of the year.
Her real interest, she said, is teaching. Which she started doing shortly after telling the students how important they were to her success.
The day's lesson: human growth and development, complete with diagrams.
The kids groaned, turned red, quickly flipped their papers over.
Bylsma shook her head.
"We do what we do," she said. "They (sixth-graders) are fascinating people."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.