I think most of us would agree that teachers as a group are often underappreciated, especially when you consider the impact they can make on the lives of their students.

This is especially true when it comes to those teachers who go way above what their job description entails, putting in countless hours in and out of the classroom to be better at what they do for the benefit of those same students.

The downside of the profession is that often these dedicated, caring and innovative teachers don’t reap any rewards for being better than others outside of the self-satisfaction in knowing that they’re doing their very best.

(Kevin Williams, Townsquare Media NJ)

Yesterday I attended a special school-wide assembly at Brick Memorial High School in which a teacher who fits all the descriptions when it comes to the word OUTSTANDING was saluted and rewarded and the best part was she had no idea it was coming.

Each year the Milken Foundation seeks and finds 45 teachers out of about 3 million across the country who represent the very best in education and Thursday Dr. Jane Foley, senior vice president of their educator awards traveled from Santa Monica, California to announce that one of those 45 was sitting in the jam packed crowd in the Brick Memorial gym.

Only a small handful of administrators knew it was Maria DeBruin, who teaches honors and AP chemistry at the high school and when Dr. Foley announced her name the place went wild.

Sure it is great to be recognized for such a prestigious award but what makes it stand out is it comes with a $25,000 prize.  The stunned and shocked DeBruin was saluted for the innovative methods she uses to challenge and engage her students and there is not enough time for me to provide details but clearly she is special and her students will be the first to echo those sentiments.

She’ll likely use part of her winnings for the Science Night Out show her students put on each spring which has become a very popular event.

A graduate of what was then Monsignor Donovan High School (now Donovan Catholic), DeBruin graduated from Hofstra and received her Master of Science in chemistry from Lehigh University in 2006 and spent five years as a chemist at a pharmaceutical company before entering the teaching profession.  She told me her first phone call would be to her husband who was in Orlando, Florida on business and like her had no idea at what had just happened.