LAND O'LAKES — Carla Nolan arrived to work at Sunlake High School loaded down with plaques and pictures.
Nolan promised her students that she'd show them her "hardware" if she won Pasco County's 2012 Teacher of the Year award over the weekend. On Monday she made good on that pledge.
The first-period reading class peppered their teacher with questions as she displayed the winner's award and ring. They particularly wanted to know what she said in her acceptance speech, which she tried to avoid because of laryngitis.
"Did you say we make it worthwhile?" asked junior Felicia Johnson-Rollock. "Did you cry?"
Of course, on both counts, Nolan answered: "I gave a shout out to the students here, and the faculty."
Her students said their reading and drama instructor deserved the accolades.
"She's my favorite teacher," freshman Kaitlin Doenas said. "If you ask her a question, she'll explain everything. She doesn't care if we talk while we work, so long as we get the work done."
Sophomore Michael San Vicente said Nolan always offers good advice, and uses a variety of new teaching techniques to keep classes interesting.
Julia Ritzko, another sophomore drama student, called Nolan "awesome."
"To all the drama kids here, she's like a mother," Ritzko said. "We have rehearsals every single day. It's a lot to keep up with school and be here. She makes it worth it. She brings out the best in people."
The school didn't greet Nolan with balloons and congratulatory signs. It planned a more subdued celebration in the afternoon.
But that didn't stop the students on the morning news from cheering her win loudly, or principal Garry Walthall from waiting for her to arrive so he could make sure she got a hug and handshake. He had sent an email to the staff over the weekend letting them know Nolan had won.
"She's outstanding," Walthall said, adding he wasn't surprised by the award. "That's why she got selected."
Nolan said she was shocked to hear her name called at the end of Saturday's awards ceremony, sponsored by the Pasco Education Foundation.
"I do what I do. I don't think about it in terms of winning awards," she said. "There are a whole lot of other people who are equally deserving. I just happened to be recognized this year."
Nolan, 46, has taught in Pasco County schools since 2007. She moved here from Leon County to take on a new challenge at Sunlake High, which was opening that year. She is a National Board-certified teacher.
She next competes for regional teacher of the year.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.