CHICAGO — From the outside, it seemed like a typical Tuesday at St. Andrew School in Lakeview. But inside, students and staff came together with eager anticipation to let 6th grade teacher Rachel Werderits in on a big secret.

She’s the recipient of the prestigious Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“Students talked about her riding her bike and running by their houses and writing notes to each of her students in chalk and also problems on the sidewalk,” said Alan Mather, President of the Golden Apple Foundation. “And so, when they’d get on Zoom, it was like ‘whose house did she visit today?'”

Werderits has taught at St. Andrew for 14 years, and she’s known since the fifth grade that this was her calling.

“I started taking chalk from school and using the back of my bedroom door as a chalkboard and I taught imaginary lessons in my bedroom,” Werderits said.

And on Tuesday, all her hard work paid off.

“I am very humbled and honored to be recognized,” Werderits said. “The challenges and the celebrations were able to have in the classroom are very rewarding.”

The Golden Apple Award comes with a $5,000 check – and Werderits becomes a fellow with the Golden Apple Academy of Educators  – who aim to encourage the next generation, hoping to help close the gap in Illinois’ teacher shortage.

“I am very excited to take the baton and I love working with people, I love coaching,” Werderits said. “So, I’m super excited to be able to mentor wherever I can to develop some more excellent teachers in our system.”