Byline: Beth Reese Cravey, County Line staff writer
When Brenda Lorentzson entered the W.E. Cherry Elementary School cafeteria Wednesday, a student who was already well into her lunch looked up, saw the newly famous teacher and excitedly pointed her out to a classmate.
"THAT'S Mrs. Lorentzson!"
She was the lady they had seen on the school news that morning, the one with a shocked look on her face, holding a plaque and a bouquet of roses. She was the one who was the subject of congratulatory signs posted around campus, the one who had a steady stream of flowers delivered to her classroom during the day.
She was Clay County's 2004 Teacher of the Year, named Tuesday night at a ceremony at Fleming Island High School.
Even her own students, just kindergartners, knew something exciting was going on, that their teacher had been singled out somehow.
"Our own teacher was on TV!" proclaimed one of them, Jacob Boele.
"Can you believe it?" Lorentzson said to him, laughing.
"Mrs. Lorentzson, I'm proud of you," said another one of her students, Nicholas Pickering.
"Thank you!" she said.
The kindergartners also were impressed with the signs and flowers and the contingent of large red balloons, proclaiming congratulations, which appeared in their classroom that morning.
"I've got lots of balloons. It's so cool!" Lorentzson told them. "They make me feel so special."
In her 20th year of teaching, 16 of them in Duval County and the last four in Clay, Lorentzson thought she was already blessed. She had a family and a career she loved. She had been named her school's Teacher of the Year nominee and was one of five finalists for the top honor in the school district.
But she was so sure one of other finalists would be selected that the possibility of her name being called as the winner did not enter her mind. Then Tuesday night, it was.
"I am just blown away," she said. "This is just beyond my wildest dreams."
On Wednesday morning, she was back in her classroom, guiding kindergartners through sounding out letters and making them into words. The applause of the night before had been put away, at least until the regional and state Teacher of the Year competition.
The most important thing, she said, is helping her students learn.
"I teach because I love it. I wouldn't trade it for the world," she said. "There is no other job that I would want to do . . . After 20 years, I can still wake up every morning and do what I love to do. I think it is the greatest job in the world, even on the bad days!"
Lorentzson, 42, who is married with two sons, discovered her calling in college.
"I took some education courses and I fell in love," she said.
In her classroom, students get a mix of encouragement and discipline, hugs and firm reminders to use only their indoor voices. …