When Robert Taylor woke up Wednesday with a painful eye infection, he knew it was going to cut into at least part of his work day at Central Road Elementary School in Rolling Meadows.
Luckily, the second-grade teacher made a quick doctor's visit and picked up some medication in the morning, allowing him to get to school in time for a big afternoon surprise.
About a dozen family members, co-workers and school administrators crowded into Taylor's classroom around 1:30 p.m. to announce he was a recipient of the Golden Apple award, an honor given to Chicago area educators for their outstanding work in the field.
Taylor, who is one of 10 prekindergarten through third-grade teachers who were picked for the award out of almost 600 nominees, was shocked when he heard what he won.
Recipients receive a tuition-free spring quarter sabbatical to study at Northwestern University and $3,000. They are also named Fellows of the Golden Apple Academy of Educators, which provides them with professional development and mentoring opportunities.
"It was definitely a surprise," said Taylor, 41, adding that the kids were either working on science fair projects or doing independent reading when the crowd came in.
Dominic Belmonte, president and CEO of the Golden Apple Foundation, said Taylor perfectly fits the description of the type of teacher they look to honor annually.
"All the people that we look at have tremendous teaching ability. But the combination of that ability plus their impact upon the community, especially with the parents -- with difficulty, we come out with the 10 we honor," he said.
The nearly 30 students in Taylor's class were thrilled about the award, and after the announcement they quickly wrote messages like "Horray for Mr. T" and "Mr. T Rocks" with markers on notebook paper that they held up in the air.
Principal Joseph Carpenter said the students' excitement reflected how much they enjoy having Taylor as a teacher. He has been at the school 15 years.
"It's a testament to his relationship with the kids," he said. "They're all very proud of him."
"Rob certainly understands second-grade learners from an emotional and social and academic standpoint," Carpenter said, adding that Taylor also makes good connections with parents.
Carpenter said one of the teaching strategies that makes Taylor successful is keeping the students active.
"The kids are up and moving all the time," he added. "I was just in there the other day and ... he ended up taking them out of the class and down to our multipurpose room for a vocabulary activity. The whole lesson was focused on these seven vocabulary words, but the exposure was in all these different, active ways."
Despite the praise, Taylor said the award wasn't all about him.
"I think everyone would agree it's a big honor to receive it, for sure," Taylor said. "But it's also, it's about ... all of those people who helped me become who I am, and it's kind of a tribute to them."
The recipients of the 2012 Golden Apple Awards will be honored during a black-tie event on Oct. 12 at the WTTW Channel 11 studios in Chicago.