SANDWICH, Ill. (AP) — A northern Illinois second-grade teacher got the red carpet treatment when she returned to her classroom in Sandwich this week after being named the Illinois’ teacher of the year.

Pam Reilly won the award during a weekend banquet. The teacher at Woodbury Elementary was chosen from one of 11 finalists from across the state.

Reilly’s students played music for her as she walked down a paper red carpet at the school on Monday.

“I knew there were so many fantastic finalists that I truly was surprised to hear my named called, and I’m very honored,” Reilly told The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle. “There are just so many amazing teachers across the state and I’m witness to their dedication.”

Reilly, who earned her undergraduate degree from Aurora University and a master’s degree in education from National Louis University, will represent the state in a national competition.

“Pam’s passion for teaching and her enthusiasm for helping her students succeed is so genuine and sincere that students are immediately drawn to her,” State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch said in a statement. “She really inspires her students, their parents and her colleagues.”

Principal Shirley DeCorte nominated Reilly for the award.

“I nominated her because she always puts her students first, finding creative ways to make sure they are all included in the learning process,” she said.

Third grade teacher Doni Morgan told The (Aurora) Beacon News that Reilly is the “perfect blend of light-heartedness and commitment.”

Reilly is in her 12th year of teaching and will spend part of the spring semester speaking at workshops around the state. She’ll also get a chance to go to Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

She said the best part of receiving the award was hearing her son, who’s in fifth grade, say that he hoped to become a teacher one day.

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