In 10 years of teaching Spanish at George Mason Junior-Senior High School in Falls Church, Robert Snee has earned quite a few fans.

When Annette Spector, a parent of one of Snee's former students, spread the word that she was planning to nominate Snee for a teaching award, she was "instantly deluged with people who wanted to help. I ended up with 14 {letters of nomination} rather than the usual two," Spector said.

Common to all the letters, which were sent by students, former students, co-workers and parents, was praise for Snee's ability to enliven repetitive course work and for his interest in the whole student -- not just the part he sees in class.

"Trying to get in touch with Mr. Snee after school in his classroom is like expecting immediate seating at a popular restaurant on a weekend evening," a student said. "Everyone knows how willing Mr. Snee is to help kids when they are having trouble in class."

Snee won the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award, which The Washington Post gives annually to a teacher in each of 15 local school systems.

"Our son is handicapped and was having a very difficult time meeting the challenges of adjusting to high school," a parent wrote. "When Mr. Snee, who had no responsibility for his instruction, became aware of the situation, he designed and implemented a system that greatly improved our ability to . . . participate in our son's education."

A teacher summed him up this way: "In all, Bob Snee is a uniquely talented amalgam of linguist, literatus, and leprechaun."

In his classroom one day last week, Snee walked from desk to desk, fixing his eyes on one student and then another as he asked questions in Spanish and coaxed answers from timid learners. Even though he was teaching a class of beginners, he spoke to them almost exclusively in Spanish.

His voice boomed. "Que' es?" (What is this?) asked Snee, pointing to a drawing of a steaming cup of coffee.

"Cafe'," the students responded.

The answer was too American for Snee. "Cafe' con que'?" (Coffee with what?) he prodded.

"Cafe' con leche," the class answered. Cafe' con leche, or coffee with steamed milk, is a staple in Spanish cafes.

Later, Snee retreated into English just long enough to drive home the importance of learning the subjunctive form of Spanish verbs. "In English, we avoid the subjunctive like the plague. I don't want you to avoid it. I want you to jump into it," he said.

Between classes, students popped in and out of the classroom and clowned around with Snee. Two girls set up after-school appointments to get extra help. Several students in International Baccalaureate, a rigorous academic program for advanced students that Snee oversees, talked over projects they were doing.

Once a week, Snee combines his advanced Spanish class with a fellow teacher's Spanish class for native speakers to widen the cultural experience of students in both classes.

A firm subscriber to what he called "the global citizen concept," Snee has led several student expeditions to Spain, advised native Hispanic students at George Mason and participated in the American Field Service, an international student exchange program. Through the International Baccalaureate program, he helps some students qualify for European universities.

Snee traces his penchant for the Spanish language and Hispanic cultures to college, where he tried, miserably, to major in business or economics. A college adviser persuaded him to learn about the world from abroad.

"He decided what I needed to do was leave the country for a while, and he was right. I went to Colombia," Snee said. "To this day, I use that piece of advice with kids all the time, whether they're in college or in high school. Whenever they're ready for it."