A Garner teacher received the surprise of a lifetime this morning, winning what one teaching magazine called "the Oscars of Teaching." But unlike most Oscar winners, fourth-grade teacher Tiffany Lachenmayr didn't know she'd been nominated.At a Timber Drive Elementary school-wide assembly, it was announced that Lachenmayr had won a Milken Award, a national award for teaching excellence, one that comes respect, prominence – and a $25,000 cash prize.Up to 40 awards will be given nationwide in 2012, and Lachenmayr is the only winner in North Carolina, according to the foundation. The Milken Foundation announces all its awards the same way: by surprising the educator at a school assembly with a purpose concealed from everyone possible, including school staff. It tips local media to the location of the award but requests that it not release any information or even contact the school to keep the secret and maximize the surprise. The Milken Foundation has awarded $63 million in cash to more than 2,500 teachers, principals and specialists since the award program's inception. Awards alternate each year between elementary and secondary educators. The foundation says its criteria for selection includes exceptional educational talent and accomplishments, unheralded contributions to education, and an engaging and inspiring presence that motivates students, colleagues and the community. It also says it aims to award early- to mid-career educators with strong long-range potential for education and policy leadership.Blue-ribbon committees recommend candidates, and the foundation makes final selections. Selection processes are confidential; there is no formal nomination or application process.


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