Despite a postgraduate degree and 15 years as an educator, Alan Kay is a superstitious soul.
He hesitated to write an acceptance speech for the Pinellas school district's most prestigious teaching award, even though he had been told to prepare one.
He was afraid it might jinx his chances.
But the Dunedin High School history teacher was glad he had come prepared Thursday night when he was named Pinellas County's Outstanding Educator for 2004.
"The people who deserve the credit the most are the students," he told a crowd of 800 cheering colleagues and friends at Tropicana Field. "One of the great blessings in my life is that I love my kids."
Kay made three trips to the podium. He also picked up category awards for being an ambassador of the profession and inspiring students to perform at higher levels.
Teachers who scored highest in other categories were Pamela Mozdy-Allen of Seminole Middle School for creativity and innovation; David Mason of Riviera Middle School for commitment to children and families; and Karen Bosso of Ponce de Leon Elementary for commitment to improvement of the profession.
Before coming to Pinellas County in 1997, Kay, 38, taught at King High International Baccalaureate School in Tampa. He was named Hillsborough County social studies teacher of the year for 1996-97.
Dunedin High assistant principal Kyle Johnson described Kay in a nomination letter as a remarkable educator who makes real-life connections between historical and modern day events.
"He inspires, challenges, cajoles and does anything else he can think of to get his students to maximize their potential," Johnson wrote.
Besides being a teacher, Kay is the author of four books in the Young Heroes of History historical fiction series. He initiated Pinellas County History Day and has written curriculum for middle and high school civics classes.
The Pinellas Education Foundation hosted Thursday's banquet and reception.
This year, 114 teachers were nominated. The field was narrowed from 24 semifinalists to 14 finalists based on classroom visits and interviews by teams of judges until each category had a winner. Kay was the first teacher to be nominated in more than one category, said district spokesman Ron Stone.
Kay began his career in 1989 as an eighth-grade civics teacher at Lake Taylor Middle School in Norfolk, Va. He came to Florida in 1993 and taught history for a year at Horace Mann Junior High School in Brandon before moving to King High.
He has a bachelor's degree in history from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and a master's degree in education from the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
A host of teachers surrounded Kay at the gala and joked with him about his zeal for Pinellas County History Day. Throughout the evening, he handed out cards advertising the event and even managed to give it a plug in his speech.
He said he hopes the award brings recognition not to him, but to the subject of history.
"Young people need to study history for two reasons," he said. "First, they're going to be the decisionmakers in our world, in the voting booth and as leaders. And second, history can be used as a tool to understand human relationships."
Kay will represent Pinellas in the state Teacher of the Year competition in July.