Madeline Hanington, a seventh-grade English teacher at Gaithersburg Middle School, got a surprise award of $25,000 today for her sterling performance in the classroom.

“Entertainers have Grammy’s, Oscars, Emmies ... but our educators, who have the most important job of all, haven’t had that kind of celebration,” said Jane Foley of the Milken Family Foundation, at an assembly called this morning to announce the winner of the Milken Education Award.

Hanington teared up as she went to accept the prize, and her students cheered. You can see clips from the assembly in this video.

Hanington has been a reading and English language arts teacher for a decade. She was recognized for her students’ strong academic performance and her ability to inspire even reluctant students. “Hanington turned a school troublemaker into a model learner who later nabbed the Science Student of the Year award,” according to a news release.

She sponsors a “lunch bunch book club” and an “Estrellas club” for girls. She brought in Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor to speak to students.

Hanington grew up in a New York City housing project. Her parents come from Puerto Rico, and she was the first in her generation to go to college.

“Mrs. Hanington establishes high expectations for her students and holds them accountable for their learning and academic successes. Her radiant and positive outlook on life and things that matter to the students is infectious to the entire Gaithersburg Middle School community and a constant reminder of what a good and effective teacher looks like,” said Carol Goddard, principal of Gaithersburg Middle School, in a news release.

More than 2,500 people have won the Milken Educator Award in the past three decades. This month, Neil Beech, principal at Osbourn Park High School in Prince William, also received the prize.