Her geometry class cheered her. The assistant principal at Takoma Park Middle School called her a star. Many wanted to know what Sarah Manchester would do with her newfound wealth, but most seemed pretty sure she would not give up teaching.
They were right.
Five days after Manchester surprised them all by becoming the third million-dollar winner in the history of Wheel of Fortune, the Montgomery County teacher returned to her colleagues and classes Monday amid a gush of congratulations and a touch of disbelief.
“We’re in the presence of a millionaire,” teased Tony Deane, a school security assistant.
Manchester’s appearance on the Wheel of Fortune game show last Wednesday was widely anticipated at the middle school, where she has taught for 18 years and also is a math team coach. But her puzzle-solving performance — and prize of more than $1 million — stunned her school.
“People jumped up and down,” recalled principal Alicia Deeny, who like many others from the school attended a viewing party that Manchester had arranged Wednesday night in Silver Spring. “It was pure excitement.”
But then Manchester was gone, invited to New York for media appearances on Thursday and Friday.
The millionaire teacher was back on campus Monday without a fancy new car or flashy attire. She came wearing one of her many math-themed T-shirts, this one with an illustration of Albert Einstein on the front and the quip: “Got math?”
“I was just kind of blown away, and jealous a little bit,” said teacher Lara Finklea, who then corrected herself: “a lot.”
Manchester says it has been five days of fun following a long period of secrecy, since the show was taped May 1 and she could not breathe a word of the outcome.
In her first class of the day, her advanced math students asked lots of questions about the show and her winnings, and Manchester played them a short clip of her appearance last Thursday on Good Morning America.
The show’s hosts gave her yet another puzzle to solve. She had a big clue and solved it before she picked the first letter: Best Day of My Life.
Her class applauded, as if she had won all over again.
“I think it’s great that she came back to work,” said eighth-grader Amarins Laanstra-Corn, 13.
Nina Boggan, 13, said she was not surprised to see Manchester in class. “I expected her to come back because she really cares that we succeed,” she said.
Manchester’s plans for her winnings don’t include much splurging. She has chosen to receive the money in payments spread out over the next 20 years, she said, and a good chunk will go toward college costs for her daughter Raina, 14, and son Alden, 8.
Some will go to charities, and some will pay for traveling. She won a trip to the Dominican Republic, which she will expand so that all four members of her family can go, and will bring her family to France when her daughter’s chorus travels there.
She considered what she might want to do besides teach school — buy a duckpin bowling alley? — but never had any serious consideration of a change, she said. “I really like teaching, so I just plan to keep on teaching,” she said.
Deeny, the principal, said Manchester is beloved at the school where she has deep roots. Manchester attended Takoma Park Middle and graduated from Montgomery Blair High School. “She’s one of those people who just really gracefully does things behind the scenes,” Deeny said.
As news of her good fortune spread, Manchester’s inbox has filled with messages.
“Good teachers get rewarded in many different ways,” wrote the parent of a former middle schooler.
A colleague joked: “Can I borrow five bucks? I’m a little short for lunch.”