Chris Gray is a beloved math teacher, a former volleyball coach, a mentor and a leader among her coworkers.
Now, she's the Beaufort County School District teacher of the year.
Gray, who has taught at Hilton Head Island High School for 20 years, said after the announcement Friday morning that what she most enjoys about teaching is building relationships with her students.
"You see child after child graduate and go to college and start their life. And they'll email you and say, 'Thank you. I appreciate the difference you made.' That makes you work harder," Gray said.
Past teachers of the year, district officials and school board members gathered at the Callawassie Island Club on Friday for the announcement of the district winner.
Gray, who was among five finalists for the honor, teaches all levels of math and even tutors students after school and in her neighborhood.
Some of Gray's coworkers called her "magical" in the classroom.
"It's not something you can put your arms around or explain," Hilton Head High principal Amanda O'Nan said.
Mary Beth White, an English teacher at the school, said Gray can take a subject that seems like a foreign language to some of her students and translate it so they can understand. White nominated Gray for the school's teacher of the year award.
"For years, I've called Chris my teacher idol because she is in so many ways what I aspire to be," said White, who has taught with Gray since 1994. She added that Gray is a mentor to fellow teachers, regardless of their experience level.
Gray was also named Hilton Head High's teacher of the year in 1996. She has won five Savannah Morning News Teacher of Excellence awards and was twice named a "teacher of influence" by students in the Teacher Cadets program. She has also coached varsity volleyball at the school.
Gray was so surprised by the honor, she said she was still shaking 30 minutes later.
"I knew I was in the company of great people," Gray said, referring to the other finalists. "That makes the honor so much bigger."
The four other finalists were Donna Fonseca of Hilton Head Island Early Childhood Center, Ca'Tia Gilbert of Whale Branch Middle School, Lois Lewis of Bluffton Middle School and Jackie Wheeler of Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts.
Teacher-of-the-year selection begins when school-level teachers are picked each April. A panel then determines finalists. Finalists are further vetted by a panel that interviews them and watches a video of them teaching a lesson.
Gray was presented with a gray 2012 BMW 328, donated by Tom Fitzgerald of Hilton Head BMW, to drive free of charge for a year. She also will lead the district's Teacher Forum for a year. The group provides input to district policy makers.
Gray will now compete for state teacher of the year.
Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.