HINCKLEY, Ohio -- We've been on the search for "Northeast Ohio’s Top Teacher."

After many nominations, we've finally revealed this year's winner: Mrs. Andrea McKinney, a first-grade teacher from Hinckley Elementary School.

The honor came as a shock to the long-time teacher, but to those close to her it was anything but a surprise.

Heather Piazza nominated Mrs. McKinney for the award.

“Not only does she bring compassion, fun and energy to first-grade students, but she does it every day with a smile on her face," Piazza said.

Piazza's daughter, Gaby, is in Mrs. McKinney’s class. This year she has seen her daughter break out of her shell.

“This year I have seen her soar in so many ways. Her confidence is building. She loves school and that’s because of Andrea McKinney.“

Mrs. McKinney has such a passion for teaching because of students like Gaby.

“They make it exciting to come every day. I love seeing them. They are my extended family."

She knows the difference a teacher can make in a child’s life because a teacher made a difference in her.

“My second-grade teacher was amazing,” McKinney said. “She changed my life. She really inspired me and I knew I wanted to do that for kids.”

Making a difference, it’s a mission she continues to live every day in the classroom.

MORE TOP TEACHERS

Emily Askew, intervention specialist at Jackson Middle School nominated by Shawna Roach:

"Mrs. Askew embodies every quality that you would want in a teacher and more. She is kind and compassionate but also knows when and how to push her students to be the best that they can be. While her students may have special needs and individual struggles, she encourages them to not let those difficulties define them. She helps them to focus on their strengths so that they can find success inside and outside of the classroom. She celebrates their accomplishments while helping them learn from their mistakes and encourages them to push through their disappointments."

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Jackie Betschman, special education and co-biology teacher at Strongsville High School nominated by her son, Sean:

“I have been lucky enough to grow up watching her do things no other teacher I have ever met does. She sacrifices her time and her energy with no limitations to do everything she can to help and support her students to the fullest extent. She works from early in the morning till late in the evening only to pack up and come home and work until 12 or 1 a.m. that night just to get up and do it all over again the next day. I have had the honor of meeting her students over the years and even the most stubborn students have left her room learning and growing. She is a very passionate woman and truly enjoys seeing her students succeed thanks in large part to her efforts and her hard work. I have seen her struggle sometimes with parents that don't always want to help or think she should be able to accomplish the hardest of tasks in the short time that students are at school, however, she never runs from the challenge and never gives up. She is everything that a teacher should be and to this day I still consider her to be and tell everyone she is the greatest teacher I ever had even though she was never my official teacher (except maybe learning to drive). Jackie Betschman is not only the best mother there is, she is also the best, most dedicated and hardest working teacher I have ever met and deserves recognition special education teachers rarely get for everything they do and the effects they have.”

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Tell us about a teacher who made a difference in your life: