Teaching Profession

Majority of Finalists for 2016 National Teacher of the Year Are Educators of Color

By Ross Brenneman — January 12, 2016 2 min read

Every year, each state picks its top teacher. It’s a ritual where the process differs somewhat in each state, but the end result is the same: A bright educator gets an award, gains entry into the contest to be National Teacher of the Year, and gains a sabbatical to listen to and, ostensibly, lead other teachers.

All states have picked their teachers of the year for 2016, and the Council of Chief State Schools Officers announced today the four finalists for National Teacher of the Year:

Who gets named teacher of the year at both the state district level is news, but it’s also important. These teachers are used to headline summits and conferences. Their op-eds get attention. They star in chats and get time with policymakers. States, districts, and colleagues (not to mention education writers) look to these teachers as obvious resources, so to the extent that teacher voice gets accounted for in education policy, you may very well see a state or national teacher of the year involved. The backgrounds and perspectives that those teachers bring, then, have some sway.

Demographically speaking, this year’s state teachers of the year are a representative sample of the teaching profession as a whole: Mostly white, three-quarters women, hailing from districts of all sizes, and heavy on math, English/language arts, and elementary school. (Though social studies teachers obviously made a good showing, too.)

A few interesting points about this year’s NTOY finalist group:


  • This is the first year in a very long time, if not ever, that at least three of the four finalists have been teachers of color; in the past couple years, all the finalists have been white.
  • Three high school social studies teachers! This professional learning community practically builds itself!
  • No matter who wins, the teacher will be from a state that has had a previous National Teacher of the Year. Since the award started in 1952, California leads all states with seven winners, followed by Washington and Minnesota with four each, and Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, and Oregon with three each. In total, 18 states, the U.S. territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity are without a national teacher of the year.

The finalists for National Teacher of the Year, as well as the ultimate winner, are chosen by a selection committee with representatives from 15 national education groups; the winner will be honored at a White House ceremony this spring.

Shanna Peeples, a high school English teacher from Texas, won the title in 2015.

Image, left to right: Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, Jahana Hayes, Daniel Jocz, and Shawn Sheehan. Images via the CCSSO.


Some fun stories about previous teachers of the year:


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.