NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – It’s Teacher Appreciation Week!

To kick off the national celebration, the Newark School District recognized one woman as Teacher of the Year. CBS2’s Elise Finch was there Monday when she was surprised with the honor.

Lourdes Reyes is one of the many dedicated teachers at the First Avenue School. She works with students who have autism, helping many of them learn to speak.

The kids told Finch “she’s funny” and “nice.”

On Monday afternoon, Reyes was told “You are the Newark Public School’s Teacher of the Year!” The 21-year veteran was moved the honor.

“Everything I do is geared towards what I would do if it was my son and I do it wholeheartedly,” she said.

Reyes said her teacher career began decades ago when her middle son, Ishmael, was diagnosed with autism.

“When he was three, I went back to graduate school. I took one course in special ed, because I figured I need to learn how to deal with special needs children, since I have a son autistic,” she told Finch. “One class led to another and the next thing I knew, I had a master’s degree.”

Soledad Aguilar is one of Reyes’ in-class aids – a job she pursued after watching Reyes teach her son last year, getting him to do things no other teacher ever could.

“I’m amazed. He’s mastered a lot of things that he did not know when he got here, and all due to her work,” she said.

Newark’s interim superintendent Robert Gregory said he likes to describe the city’s schools as places “where passion needs progress,” and no place is that more true than in this classroom.

“There are kids in this country who will be better off because they’ve gone through her classroom,” he said.

Shortly after Reyes learned she was Teacher of the Year, the principal announced it over the loudspeaker, and her colleagues and students flooded the halls to congratulate her.

“Ms. Reyes! Ms. Reyes!” the cheered.

Everyone seemed to agree that Reyes had truly earned her title. She beat out more than 3,000 teachers in the city.