(WMC-TV) - An English teacher at East High School in Memphis received a $25,000 check Thursday from the Milken Family Foundation's National Educator Awards.
Meah King received the award during a surprise assembly at the school.
"I was told to just get the kids excited and take them through a few chants, and I was just excited about that, not knowing it was all for me," she said.
The Milken Family Foundation Award was first presented in 1987 and is designed to provide public recognition and a financial reward to teachers, principals and other educators who have a proven record of excellence in education.
"We look at the whole country and determine who we believe represent the top 1 percent of the entire profession, and that's why we're here at East High School for Meah King," the Foundation's Dr. Jane Foley said.
"I never knew anyone was paying attention because I always thought that this was a ministry and not a profession," King said.
A current student, Jalon Netters, described King as special.
"She has a connection," Netters said. "She's committed to what she's doing, and at the same time she's a friend to us and connects with us in a way that no other teacher can."
"The personal relationships she forges, allows both adults and students to not only discover their hidden talents, but grow into and accept their responsibilities," King's principal Eric Harris added.
Also in attendance were King's parents, Herbert and Joyce, whom she credits for fostering her love for education.
"If the award had not come, you would still see her putting forth 150 percent," they said.
King has been teaching for ten years, and often serves as a mentor to new teachers and underprivileged students at East High school.
King is allowed to spend the $25,000 in any way she chooses, but many of her students believe she'll find someway to put it back in her classroom.