CAPE ELIZABETH — As Talya Edlund walked into the auditorium at Pond Cove Elementary School on Monday, the room erupted in cheers.

In the surprise ceremony, the third-grade teacher was named the state’s top teacher. The students and teachers were supposedly gathering to celebrate the school’s 250th anniversary when they drew back the curtain to reveal the “2016 Maine Teacher of the Year” banners.

Edlund covered her mouth and smiled when she realized why the entire school was gathered. Her students, who walked into the auditorium with her, pumped their fists in the air and jumped up and down.

“I don’t even know where to begin. I am so grateful to all of you,” Edlund said, her voice breaking as she thanked her “beautiful, amazing students” and others in the school and community.

“You make my job an adventure every day,” she told her third-grade students, who sat on the floor at the foot of the stage during the hourlong ceremony. “Thank you for showing me kindness and creativity. With those things, anything is possible.”

As the 2016 Maine Teacher of the Year, Edlund will travel around the state during the year to meet with teachers and students and speak about Maine’s public schools. She will also travel to the White House with other state teachers of the year to meet with President Obama.

“Today we celebrate you and your love of teaching,” said acting Deputy Education Commissioner Rachelle Tome, who presented Edlund with a plaque and read a letter of congratulations from Gov. Paul LePage.

Tome described Edlund as a “teacher’s teacher” who “understands and values the individual uniqueness of every child.”

Her students said she makes learning fun, and they were sure she would win the Teacher of the Year award.

“She teaches us and she also pushes us to do harder things. And she helps us if we have trouble,” said 8-year-old Campbell DeGeorge.

“Everything about her is just amazing. When I was in second grade and they said I would be in Miss Edlund’s class, a whole surge of happiness just went through me,” said Nikolas Moliski, also 8. “She’s amazing.”

Edlund emerged from an initial field of more than 300 nominees. The group was narrowed down to 16 county Teacher of the Year winners and to three state finalists, from Cumberland, Franklin and Piscataquis counties.

Edlund says her philosophy is to get students engaged by working with their hands and thinking problems through by experimenting, such as making a lobster trap out of cardboard tubes, string and some tape.

She also wants to get them comfortable: On the first day of class, she gives her students the messiest possible assignment so they can have some fun, learn that they can make a mess – and how to clean up. Her classroom is a bright, inviting space, with brightly colored maps on the walls and shelves stuffed with books at a child’s eye level. Bins with Legos, crayons, puzzles and glue sticks also line the shelves.

Edlund started teaching 15 years ago, in Brooklyn, New York. She began working in Cape Elizabeth in 2004. She has taught second-graders and worked as a literacy coach.

“We are so fortunate to have you work with us at Pond Cove,” Principal Kelly Hanson told Edlund. “All at Pond Cove adore you, Talya.”

The state’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, Jennifer Dorman, was part of the committee that selected Edlund. She said the committee observed her teaching, and asked her third-grade students to describe Edlund in one word.

“Students have a knack for a one-word description,” Dorman said. Among the words they used, she said, were “epic, happy, awesome … stupendous.”

Edlund’s classroom, she noted, “smelled like paint” and was filled with a “buzz of learning.”

In an interview at the beginning of the school year, Edlund said third-graders are fun to work with because they have a great sense of humor at that age and are “very good at working together.” They have moved from “learning to read” to actually “reading to learn,” and are very positive about being at school and learning.

“They don’t have to be perfect. Their job is to figure out how to work with the abilities and talents they have,” she said.

Edlund said going through the teacher of the year process “shoved me out the door and has given me a reason to think about the choices I make,” referring to the essay-writing portion of the application. Applicants also had to make oral presentations in the final stages.

Edlund has a bachelor of arts degree in humanities from the University of Michigan and a master of science degree in elementary education from Brooklyn College.

In his letter to Edlund congratulating her, LePage wrote, “Through your teaching, you foster a sense of self-reliance, a love for learning, an independence, and endless encouragement for students.”