Patti Phillips? first thought upon hearing she was nominated for Howard County?s Teacher of the Year was about all the teachers worthy of such an honor.

Then, when she saw the massive packet she had to fill out, her next thought was "I need time," said the reading specialist at Phelps Luck Elementary School in Columbia.

To answer the in-depth questions ? ranging from educational history to teacher accountability ? Phillips would study the topics and jot down ideas in a notebook as they came to her, said the winner of the county honor.

The Maryland Teacher of the Year program, for which Phillips and two dozen others in the state are now in the running, requires teachers to examine their influences, major education issues and community commitment, according to the state?s application.

Other requirements include a 100-word essay on professional accomplishments and three letters of support.

As she competed for the local title, Phillips reflected on her 31 years as a Howard County teacher and her colleagues who supported her along the way.

"I was thinking of them," she said of her fellow teachers, counselors and administrators.

"We are in such a team profession."

Phillips recalled visiting a nearby elementary school while still a high school student in Baltimore and later teaching kindergartners how to use computers.

"Howard County knew I was open, always willing to try something new," she said.

The nomination began with a school committee representing each teacher team, so the staff have a lot of feedback in the process, said Phelps Luck Principal Pam Akers.

The school followsthis same process for other award nominees, such as Custodian of the Year and Secretary of the Year, she said.

"We do a pretty complete packet for the county level," Akers said.