When Christy Van Meter arrived at work Friday morning at Riverside Middle School, her pupils showered her with confetti.
The impromptu event celebrated Van Meter winning the Columbia County Teacher of the Year title Thursday evening.
"They're so sweet," Van Meter said of her pupils' recognition. "They're a great group of students."
And those sixth-grade pupils learn from a great teacher.
Van Meter won in competition with four other finalists - Shannon Brown, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at Greenbrier Middle School; Gloria Cruse, a second-grade teacher at Bel Air Elementary; Lara Reeves, a second-grade teacher at River Ridge Elementary; and Ginger Sutton, a language arts and social studies teacher at Stallings Island Middle School.
A previous Teacher of the Year winner at Riverside Middle in 2001, this is the first time Van Meter nabbed the school system honor. She admitted to harboring some nervousness.
"It's a lot of pressure," she said of living up to standards of previous county teachers of the year.
Since 1999, seven Columbia County teachers of the year were chosen as finalists for the statewide honor.
"I do feel like I have a lot to live up to. This is a school system that fosters good teaching, and I want to be a good example for that."
Good teaching starts with good collaboration, Van Meter said.
Much of the classroom success she said she enjoys must be shared with other teachers at her school.
Each day, Van Meter said, she and other teachers share ideas and discuss problems with individual students.
"We listen for tips on how to reach certain students," she said. "We share our lesson plans so we know we're all moving our students along at the same pace."
Technology also plays a big role in the language arts teacher's classroom strategy.
Once pupils complete assignments, Van Meter often allows them to sit with one of her three classroom computers to blog on school issues or read news stories appropriate for their age group.
"It's kind of a sneaky thing I do," she said. "They think they're getting to play on the computer, when what they're actually doing is working on their writing skills.
"I won't let a blog be posted until I've read it, and I'll make them go back and correct words or sentences, which they want to do because they want to see it posted."
Van Meter also likes to use visual learning cues to drive home grammar lessons.
Friday, she led her pupils in an exercise of how misusing an apostrophe changes the meaning of a sentence. Pupils drew pictures illustrating the meanings of incorrect versus correct sentences.
One picture, Van Meter's favorite, shows two boys connected at the head like conjoined twins to illustrate the "boys' head." The sentences should have read, "boy's head."
One day, Van Meter said she'd like to combine such effective lessons with technology.
"I'd love to develop some sort of Web-based resources where teachers can look online to find good teachers giving good lesson plans," she said.
"Teachers get to be good by observing and learning from other good teachers, and we need to do more of that.
"That's how we'll improve education in this country; not with No Child Left Behind."
Despite her ambitions, the 21-year teaching veteran said her education desires never included moving into school administration.
"I love being in the classroom," she said. "I'll never leave it.
"After 20 years of teaching, I only just now feel like I'm getting really good at it and I don't want to give that up."