Education officials dusted off a 1987 letter from an aspiring teacher, who was working for a school in Pennsylvania at the time, and included its opening line in the program for the Teacher of Year reception Monday night at Staples High School.

"What greater reward than watching a child read his first word and knowing you have helped in giving that child a life time gift," Marguerite "Peg" Tappan wrote as the first sentence in the cover letter that accompanied her resume. Tappan, a special education teacher at Greens Farms Elementary School, was chosen as Westport's 2014 Teacher of Year by a committee from a pool of seven nominees from four town schools.

Board Chairwoman Elaine Whitney called the teachers "the best of the best."

Committee members consider leadership, superior ability to inspire, involvement in the community and other factors in making their selection, according to Marge Cion, the school system's director of human resources.

During the Board of Education ceremony Monday to honor Tappan and the six other nominees, Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon said Tappan "is truly a master teacher."

Tappan said she still derives great joy from watching sounds and letters magically come together for a child. "At that moment the world becomes theirs," she said.

"I love what I do today as much as I did right out of the gate" 39 years ago, Tappan said, adding that she realizes the importance of being the spark "to ignite the flame of learning."

That became the theme of Monday's ceremony. "As educators, we are the fire-starters," said nominee Jamie Pacuk of Coleytown Middle School, who opened her remarks with a quote from distinguished Irish poet William Butler Yeats: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."

By that measure, Peter Alfano, a science teacher at Coleytown Middle School, is igniting an entire state forest. Coleytown Principal Kris Szabo said she recently asked a student how swesome grade was going so far and he answered with an enthusiastic, "Awesome!" When Szabo asked why the student said "because I have Mr. Alfano for science."

Adam Rosen, principal of Bedford Middle School, paid tribute to science teacher Daniel Cortright, and former Bedford teacher Lauren Francese, who now teaches at Staples High School. Rosen said Cortright leads by example, "sharing his passion for science and discovery with his students in a multitude of settings."

Of Francese, Rosen said she is "instantly among the most recognizable and popular teachers at Staples ... Lauren recognizes that her efforts are fruitless unless they are matched with the efforts of the children in her classroom, so each year she seeks to learn more about herself through the learning and development of her students."

Sarah White, a mathematics and French teacher at Staples, who was introduced by Principal John Dodig in French, said she has learned many lessons in the classroom herself, among them that people "shouldn't be afraid to try new things."

Nominee Deborah Perry, a teacher at Coleytown Middle School, summed it up for all the educators: "How lucky I am to be a teacher."