NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A New Haven teacher got a big surprise and a big honor Thursday morning. Honored Schools is a nonprofit that hands out checks to outstanding teachers around the country. The winners are always chosen by members of the school community.

The winning teacher is Magda Colon. She is a Spanish instructor at East Rock Community Magnet School, and the only person who really seemed surprised by this honor was the honoree herself. After the ceremony, she talked about her approach to teaching her students.

“I love them first and then teach them, so they know they can come to be about anything,” Colon said. “I just try to be there for them. I’m always smiling, always trying to comfort.”

Colon won a $5,000 check from Honored Schools. The nonprofit has been giving away checks and honors all over the country since 2017. It’s the people who know the teachers best who choose the nominees.

“Really, it was the school community,” said Edith Johnson, New Haven Schools’ Director of Professional Learning & Development. “You know, teachers, staff, students, family who voted for over 250 nominations.”

That 250 got narrowed down to four finalists, with Colon chosen the winner by a community panel. Her mother spent years as a teacher and principal in New Haven, and Colon grew up always wanting to be a teacher.

“A teacher is almost like their mom away from home, or an extension of their family,” Colon said. “They’re with us more, I believe, than they are in their homes.”

She may teach how to speak and read Spanish, but it’s listening to students that she says makes a good teacher.

“Lot of times, they’re misunderstood,” said Colon. “They’re just younger people trying to express themselves, so I try to help them articulate what they need to say.”

New Haven School officials hope this is the beginning of a long relationship with Honored Schools and there will be many more of these celebrations in the years to come.