Karey Santos was teaching her fourth-graders at Millbrook Elementary School Tuesday, but it seemed more of a chat.

She suggested they use their eyes and look at the wide range of plants in front of them. They happily discussed the species and how they are related and share some common characteristics.

Santos proudly told a visitor: “Did you see all the plants they brought in today? How cool is that?”

She is one of six Aiken County School District teachers named to the Honor Court — the finalists for the District Teacher of the Year award.

The other Honor Court members are Amelia “Em” Ligon, Aiken High School English teacher; Elizabeth Supan, Aiken Elementary School fourth-grade teacher; Loretta Childless, Greendale Elementary School reading interventionist; Kathleen Langston, Redcliffe Elementary School third-grade teacher; and Tamara Butler, Hammond Hill Elementary School second-grade teacher.

The new 2013 District Teacher of the Year will be announced at a banquet at the USC Aiken Convocation Center on April 29, sponsored by Public Education Partners and the school district.

The winner will succeed Lisa Raiford, a special-education teacher at the Center for Innovative Learning at Pinecrest. Raiford currently is a finalist for the S.C. Teacher of the Year.

Santos has been teaching for the past 25 years. For a number of years, she served as Millbrook's science specialist “and that's my first love,” she said. “But I love math and reading, and I'm beginning to love social studies, too.”

Principal Denise Huff calls her dynamic and a teacher who goes beyond the call of duty in everything she does.

“Karey takes abstract things and makes them concrete with hands-on activities,” Huff said. “It all becomes real to them.”

A total of 41 school-based teachers will be recognized at the banquet, scheduled at the USC Aiken Convocation Center.

Butler has taught at Hammond Hill for the past 16 years – a school she considers home.

“This place is really a family, and the students are awesome and just phenomenal,” she said. “At this point, they still love you and you get the hugs.”

Butler takes academics seriously with her kids, but “cutting up with them is fun, too,” she said. “They need to know we have a personalty.”

Her principal, Janet Vaughan, described Butler as a wonderful teacher who makes learning enjoyable for her students.

“She means business,” said Vaughan. She's “just a natural-born teacher.”

Childress originally worked as a music therapist before staying home with her children. She returned to school to get her certification and started her career as a second-grade teacher at North Aiken 10 years ago. She's finishing her third year as a reading interventionist.

“It's the best of both worlds,” Childress said. “I didn't have the time in the classroom to work with struggling kids. I spent half a day with Reading Recovery (for first-graders). At the end of the year, we'll do MAP testing and see the children now in second and third grade just blossoming.”

Greendale has seen so much growth with children, said Principal Sonya Colvin – not only in Reading Recovery, but also in the students Childress does intervention services with.

“We are so proud and so excited that she belongs to us,” Colvin said.

Langston has enjoyed a teaching career of 19 years, the last seven at Redcliffe. She enjoys her third-graders for their desire to please, and she looks for ways to find out what interests them. When younger children have a tough time, she wants them in her third-grade classroom.

“It's usually those kids I really enjoy,” Langston said. “We will find their talent, as they want to be recognized for what they do well.”

She is a wonderful teacher who cares about her children, said Principal Julie Revelle.

“She works hard with them, and building a relationship with them is important,” Revelle said.

Ligon has been teaching English for the past 32 years. “I think teaching keeps you young in some ways,” Ligon said. “I love getting my students excited about literature. ... Teaching is an outreach; trying to impact young people's lives.”

Principal Garen Cofer describes Ligon as one of Aiken High's most dedicated teachers.

“Her love for Aiken High is enormous,” he said. “We have a huge respect for each other. She is a master classroom teacher who cares immensely about her students.”

After 19 years as an elementary teacher, Supan has tackled a new assignment and found in a great experience.

“I'm teaching math for the first time – three periods of math 90 minutes each — and I love it,” she said.

All the Honor Court teachers were stunned and moved by their most recent achievement. Supan found the announcement on the school district's Facebook page Monday night.

“I was crying when I saw it,” she said.