Twenty teachers from the Washington area were honored by The Washington Post yesterday for making what the newspaper's chairman, Donald E. Graham, called "a huge and inexpressible difference" in the lives of their students.

The teachers, one from each of the area's 19 public school systems and one representing private schools, were given Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Awards after being chosen by their systems. Nominations were made by parents, supervisors, colleagues and students.

The awards, which have been given since 1983, are named for Graham's grandmother, who was a champion of public education. Winners received a Tiffany apple and a check for $3,000.

As Graham read excerpts from the nomination letters, it appeared that the winners had much in common, with many being singled out for their dedication, commitment, interest in their students and efforts to involve parents in their children's education.

The bond with parents emerged in many ways. Andrew J. Yauchler, a fifth-grade teacher at Manassas Park Elementary, was praised for improving his Spanish to communicate better with students and their parents.

Letters sent in behalf of Robin Nussbaum, a special education teacher at Howard County's Cedar Lane School, were described by Graham as "so remarkable." After the death of one of Nussbaum's students, a parent wrote, the teacher went to the family's home, where she "paced up and down, trying to console me."

Many of yesterday's winners spent at least part of their school day teaching science and did so in innovative ways.

Not only was Gerald A. Link of Northwest High School in Montgomery County hailed as the author of a chemistry-related song, he also used electricity to evoke a glow in a pickle. The student who nominated Link called the lighted pickle "unreal." In an aside, Graham called the report of the pickle project a first in the history of the award ceremony.

Susan C. Madden, a fourth-grade teacher at Davidson Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, led students in scrubbing oysters as a means of dramatizing plans for cleaning the Chesapeake Bay.

Priscilla H. Minnich of Matthew A. Henson Middle School in Charles County occasionally dubbed herself Mrs. Mimic -- and dressed as a duck -- to make vivid the means by which natural creatures use camouflage to protect themselves.

Chosen by lot to speak for the winners, Catherine Wiant of George Mason Middle School in Falls Church urged the teachers to speak out for their students and for education. At a time of cuts in government funding, she said, "if we do not, who will?"

Other winners and their schools and school systems: Brian M. Bassett, Gar-Field High, Prince William County; Lori H. Bower, Oakdale Elementary, Frederick County; Pauline Carey, Mount Rainier Elementary, Prince George's County; Joseph L. Denton Jr., Calvert High, Calvert County; Shirley M. Geisbert, Benjamin Banneker Elementary, St. Mary's County; and Christina L. Gutierrez, T.C. Williams High, Alexandria.

Also, Paul M. Jacobs, T. Benton Gayle Middle, Stafford County; Joyce Johnson, W.G. Coleman Elementary, Fauquier County; Jason Kamras, Sousa Middle, Washington; Ann M. Mizelle, Osbourn High, Manassas; Rachel P. Newell, Hillside Elementary, Loudoun County; Inge R. Pisano, Oakton High, Fairfax County; Ralph E. Reeves Jr., DeMatha Catholic High, Hyattsville (private schools); and Laurie J. Sullivan, K.W. Barrett Elementary, Arlington County.

Benjamin C. Bradlee, vice president at large and former executive editor of The Post, congratulates Robin Nussbaum.Catherine Wiant, speaking on behalf of fellow award winners, urged teachers to speak out for students and education. "If we do not, who will?" she asked.