Dr. Rick Kaht sat down with his fellow teachers Friday morning for what he was told would be a briefing of the school's recent student test scores.
It was to be a busy day at Dickerson, the final full planning day for teachers before school begins on Monday. By mid-morning Friday, students and parents would arrive for meet-and-greet sessions.
Only a few people inside the auditorium knew the teachers' meeting was arranged to specifically honor him.
When Cobb schools superintendent Michael Hinojosa unfurled a t-shirt bearing Kaht's name as the county's 2012-13 Middle School Teacher of the Year, words failed him -- for a change.
"I was shocked, I was speechless for probably the first time in my life," said Kaht, the head of Dickerson's science department and a life sciences teacher at the East Cobb school since 1999.
"I was humbled just to be Dickerson's teacher of the year, and now the district teacher of the year, I'm just so honored," he said.
(Click on to see the accompanying video of the announcement as it unfolded Friday morning.)
Kaht is the first Dickerson teacher to be so named by his peers, and he's now a finalist for the Teacher of the Year. The other candidates are Lassiter High School languages and humanities teacher Beth Morgan and Carolyn Davis, a fifth grade teacher at Riverside Intermediate School in Mableton.
"I have been trying to keep this a secret for so long," said Dickerson principal Carole Brink, who was a teacher of the year at East Cobb's . "We're just so excited" about Kaht's honor.
One of Kaht's approaches to helping his students learn life sciences is to have them see the actual effects of the concepts he teaches. To introduce them to the work of geneticist Gregor Mendel, he had them grow peas in the classroom.
“I try to not only teach a subject, but also present skills of learning and the idea that they can be successful and accomplish great things," he said.
Last year Kaht organized a Robotics club at Dickerson, and he's also involved in anti-bullying efforts at the school.
"This is a well-deserved honor," said East Cobb school board member Scott Sweeney.
Cobb teachers will vote on the overall Teacher of the Year shortly after the start of the school year.