WASHINGTON (WJLA) - A Montgomery County teacher has been named the Most Hopeful Teacher in America.
In front of a full audience of Montgomery County teachers and administrators, Mary Hawkins-Jones confesses her passion for teaching is selfish.
"I'm concerned about my future so I'm going to give my students everything I can possibly give them to have the best possible future," she says.
She chooses her words carefully and pulls them from her heart.
"My family gives me hope, my church gives me hope, I get hope from my friends, and then from my students," Hawkins-Jones says.
For 23 years, Hawkins-Jones has taught in the Montgomery County school system. Through a nationwide Gallup survey, judges identified her. After rounds of interviews, Gallup named her the first Most Hopeful Teacher in America.
Hawkins-Jones says the secret to effective teaching is giving students individual attention.
"I don't look at it as a whole class. I sit down my with students. I talk to them. I find out, 'What's your need?'" she says.
In Hawkins-Jones' first class, Cristina Ulrich spoke little English, but understood her teacher's message. More than 20 years later, Ulrich is the 2013 Montgomery County Teacher of the Year.
"She created a sense of hope in that aspect because she believed that you could accomplish your goals through hard work," Ulrich says.
Being strong-willed can help pave the way but may not be enough to boost grades. A recent report shows only 25-percent of ACT test-takers are ready for college. Dr. Joshua Starr says that's not the case in Montgomery County.
"There's so many folks out there who want us to feel defeated. Kids aren't ready, teacher's aren't accountable. I actually see the opposite. When you see people like Mary Hawkins-Jones I think there is a lot of hope for our kids," Starr says.
When the public narrative sounds so negative, Hawkins-Jones is teaching her students to write a different story.
"Hope does continue, it does continue to move forward," Hawkins-Jones says.