Jeanie Padron and her students had a good reason to dance Wednesday.
Not that they need one.
The Maize fourth-graders, at Padron's insistence, start every school day by standing beside their desks and dancing — most recently to the Black Eyed Peas' "I Got a Feeling" — as a way to wake up, warm up and get ready to learn something new.
"She is a very good teacher," said 9-year-old Samuel Loerke. "One of the best."
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Others agree. On Wednesday, Padron was named a Milken National Educator in a surprise ceremony at Maize Central Elementary School.
In the world of education, the award is close to an Oscar or a Grammy, said Jane Foley, senior vice president of the Milken Family Foundation.
It comes with an unrestricted $25,000 prize and a trip to Los Angeles, where Padron will participate in a national education conference next spring.
"I feel blessed to just go to a job every day that I really feel called to do," Padron said after receiving the award. "Every morning I wake up and think, 'I really have the best job in the world.' "
Padron was unaware she was being considered for the award until Foley announced her name during Wednesday's assembly in the gym. Students and colleagues stood and cheered for several minutes as Padron and her son, Alex, a third-grader, stood beside a large check.
Padron is one of 55 educators around the country — and the only one in Kansas — to be recognized this year for their innovative and exceptional teaching styles.
Teachers do not apply for the Milken award but are recommended by a panel appointed by each state's department of education.
Principal David Jennings said Padron "richly deserves the award."
What makes her a great teacher?
"Relationships," Jennings said. "She connects with the kids. She knows the kids, really knows them as individuals, and it shows."
Padron said she was inspired to become a teacher by her mother, who taught kindergarten in Oklahoma for 30 years. Every day in the classroom is challenging and rewarding, she said.
"I think about my students, especially those little guys who struggle all day long, and it's really hard for them," she said. "It's so important to be mindful of that.
"But you also have to be aware of the other kids who learn easily and need to keep being challenged. ... That's another important goal."
One element of teaching Padron doesn't relish so much: Grading papers.
"Maybe I could hire a grader for a year," she joked.
Padron said she doesn't have any immediate plans for the $25,000, though her son was quick to ask for a new bike minutes after the award announcement.
She and her fiance are planning a January wedding, so, "I can think of a few things this could pay for, things we still need to tie up," she said.
Foley, a former principal who was named a Milken National Educator in 1994, welcomed Padron to "our national family of excellence" and challenged her to make the most of the honor.
"Teachers have the responsibility of preparing all of you for a bright future," Foley told the Maize Central students. "We just don't say thank you very often... So this is a big thank you."