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From Teaching Military Kids to Refugees, Here Are the Finalists for Teacher of the Year

TOY-finalists.jpg

The new year is starting off with a recognition of four exemplary teachers from across the country—the finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award. 

The Council of Chief State Schools Officers announced the finalists today. One of these teachers will receive the national honor, granting him or her a yearlong sabbatical to travel across the country and even the world, headline conferences, meet with policymakers, and have a national platform to advocate for an issue of choice.

The four finalists are:  

  • Amy Andersen, an American Sign Language teacher at an Ocean City, N.J., public high school; 
  • Kara Ball, an elementary teacher for the Department of Defense Education Activity, which manages schools for military children;
  • Jonathan Juravich, an art teacher at a public elementary school in Powell, Ohio; and 
  • Mandy Manning, an English and math teacher to immigrant and refugee students in Spokane, Wash.

The candidates are from diverse backgrounds, and represent a bit of a departure from historical award winners: A visual arts teacher hasn't won the national contest since 1979. A teacher from the Department of Defense Education Activity has never claimed the top prize. An American Sign Language teacher has also never been recognized as the National Teacher of the Year, according to data provided by CCSSO. 

Andersen, Ball, and Manning are all National Board-certified teachers. 

Some more background on the finalists: 

  • Andersen, the American Sign Language teacher who has taught both deaf and hearing students, is recognized for her commitment to promoting strength in diversity, teaching that every voice has value. She has arranged paint nights with world-renowned deaf artists for her students, and some of her students have even interpreted for former First Lady Michelle Obama and Madonna. 
  • Ball teaches elementary students from military families at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C. Science, technology, engineering, and math, along with project-based learning, are major components of her instruction. (Every year, her students dissect sharks!)
  • An advocate for arts education, Juravich is an award-winning artist who has taught for 13 years. He also facilitates professional development and plans art curriculum as the district's elementary visual art department chairman.
  • Manning teaches at the Newcomer Center at her Spokane high school—she is her students' first teacher once they arrive in the country. She helps her students process trauma through projects and celebrations of their home countries and culture. Manning also lead efforts to re-evaluate her school's discipline plan and adopt an evidence-based behavioral intervention plan—which resulted in a 74 percent decrease in suspensions in the first year.

In the fall, each state—plus the U.S. extra-state territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity—picked their teacher of the year. From that pool, a national selection committee that represents 14 education and community organizations picked the four finalists, and ultimately will pick the winner.

"The four finalists for the 2018 National Teacher of the Year stand at the intersection of policy, advocacy, and practice," the selection committee said in a statement. "They exemplify the highest levels of teaching, innovation, and leadership, and have demonstrated a commitment to students and public education."

Every year since 1952, the president has recognized the National Teacher of the Year in a White House ceremony in the spring. However, in 2017, President Donald Trump broke with tradition somewhat—instead of the traditional ceremony in the White House's East Room or Rose Garden that is open to the families of the state teachers of the year, Trump invited just the teachers into the Oval Office. Typically, the National Teacher of the Year speaks, but last year, Trump was the only one to make remarks. According to the Washington Post, some of the recognized teachers were displeased with the lack of pomp and circumstance and the exclusion of their family members from the ceremony. 

Sydney Chaffee, a 9th grade humanities teacher in Boston, won the honor last year. She is the first charter school teacher to win the award in the contest's 65-year history. 

Image, from left to right: Amy Andersen, Jonathan Juravich, Kara Ball, and Mandy Manning. Images provided by CCSSO.

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