Patti Tate, a Northwestern High School English instructor, could be South Carolina's next Teacher of the Year.
She's one of five teachers from more than 80 school districts in the running for the title, which comes with $25,000.
Tate's nomination marks the third straight year that a Rock Hill school district teacher has been a state finalist.
In 2010, Julia Goodman Marshall, who teaches fifth grade at Oakdale Elementary was a finalist.
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In 2009, Bryan Coburn, a Northwestern High computer science and pre-engineering teacher, was named South Carolina's Teacher of the Year. He was the first teacher from York County to win since Rock Hill's Hazel Joiner in 1973.
Tate, 47, was driving when state Superintendent of Education Mick Zais called to give her the news.
"I had to pull over," she said. "I was so in shock ... I'm still in shock."
In her 25th year of teaching, Tate said she aims to individualize education for each of her students.
"Every single one of them," she said. "All students learn, but they all learn in their unique way. I don't say I teach classes. I say I teach students."
That often means offering choices.
Rather than having everyone turn in identically formatted research projects, for instance, students get to choose the format. One might write an essay, while another shoots a video and another draws.
The key to understanding how students learn, Tate said, is to first build trust so they feel comfortable talking about concerns.
"My trick is letting them know who I am," she said. "I share my stories ... And my mistakes. I'll say 'I don't get that.' It's building relationships with students."
Her approach works, students said.
"Our classroom is more like a family because of her," said Olivia Stillman, a 16-year-old junior in Tate's Advanced Placement English course. "We don't just sit there and take notes. We have discussions as a class.
"We're like her kids. She even tells us we mean so much to her."
Junior Jake Youngblood said Tate makes dense lessons enjoyable.
"She finds new ways to help us learn," he said.
To hammer home a recent lesson on fallacies in arguments, Tate had students draw pictures of illogical situations. Youngblood, whose partner that day was Ms. Tate, turned in a drawing of himself getting an A after not doing any work.
Youngblood said he'll never forget what "fallacy" means.
Next month, Tate and the other four finalists have personal interviews with a seven-member selection committee. The winner will be announced at a banquet on April 27.