Carolyn Coakley said she didn't know how to react when she received the letter in the mail from federal education officials.

The letter, dated Sept. 18, asked Coakley, a speech teacher at High Point High School in Prince George's County, to authorize officials to open a bank savings account in her name so that the money she won in a fellowship competition could be deposited.

"They said the account was not an indication that I had won the competition," she recalled. "But I kind of thought I was a winner because why else would they open an account for me?"

Coakley said she learned later that the letter was an unofficial and premature notice that she was one of 115 teachers nationwide to win a share of $2 million in the U.S. Department of Education's first annual Christa McAuliffe Fellowship program.

The official letter verifying her win and the $25,000 prize that came with it, arrived 13 days later.

"I was relieved because I could finally tell someone that I had won even though I had known {unofficially} for some time," Coakley said.

Coakley was honored for submitting a proposal on her plans to write a workbook aimed at training educators how to teach their students good listening skills. The only other winner from the state was Barry D. Gelsinger, a high school English teacher in Westminster.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said the fellowship program was devised to honor Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the New Hampshire teacher who died with six astronauts aboard the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986.

The program, which distributed grants of up to $25,000 among the 115 teachers, chose the winners based on proposals they submitted on ways to improve the education students receive.

Coakley said she will use her grant to travel to schools across the country that offer secondary school listening programs. She will then conduct research on the most effective ways to teach and learn listening skills and compile the data in a workbook, which she hopes will ultimately be published and distributed to educators across the country.

In the workbook, Coakley said she will have important techniques such as how to listen to entire conversations rather parts of them. She added that research has shown that people tend to listen to 25 percent or less of conversations or school lessons.

Coakley said while many of the winning teachers plan to leave their jobs for a year, Coakley, who was honored recently by the county Board of Education for her accomplishment, said she will continue to teach at High Point while she writes her workbook.

"That's one of the reasons why I chose to write the proposal I did," said Coakley. "I wanted to be able to work on the book and continue teaching."

Teachers who entered the competition were asked to submit proposals on how they would improve education in one of four categories: sabbaticals for study or research; consultation or assistance to other school systems; development of special innovative programs, or development of model teacher programs or staff development.

Under the fellowship program's guidelines, winning teachers are permitted to take up to one year to work on their proposals and must return to their positions for at least two years following completion of their projects.

Coakley, who holds a master's degree in speech communication and listening skills and has authored two books on listening, said she thought choosing the fourth option would give her a greater chance to reach more educators and students.

"The performance of a lot of students would be better if they were taught the proper way to listen and the way to get them to listen is to first train the people who teach them," she said.