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National Teacher of the Year Finalists’ Applications Reveal How Incredibly Talented the Four Remaining Teachers Are

National Teacher of the Year Finalists’ Applications Reveal How Incredibly Talented the Four Remaining Teachers Are

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) has announced the four finalists to be considered for the honor of 2017 National Teacher of the Year.

The finalists hail from a variety of different backgrounds:

  • 2017 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee is a Humanities teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School, an EL Education school
  • 2017 Wisconsin Teacher of the Year Chris Gleason is an instrumental music teacher and band director at Patrick Marsh Middle School
  • 2017 California Teacher of the Year Megan Gross is a special education teacher at Del Norte High School
  • 2017 Maryland Teacher of the Year Athanasia Kyriakakos is an art education teacher at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School

Despite their different backgrounds, the candidates have many things in common with one another, things that have astonishingly very little to do with the fact that they're all teachers.

Judging from each candidate's application (which are available for public viewing through CCSSO's website), each has a remarkably unique ability to connect to their students and go beyond simply teaching them. 

When Kyriakakos, for example, was asked on her application to describe a lesson that defines her as a teacher, she described her interdisciplinary lesson "Day of the Dead." As she describes it, her lesson "Day of the Dead" was one that both provides students with an understanding of South American cultures while teaching them a profound lesson about their own life in general.

The lesson, while one that encompassed "a PowerPoint discussion about South American traditional celebrations of Dia de los Muertos, cultural colonization, and appropriation of art forms," was also used as an opportunity for both Kyriakakos and her students to express their mourning for a fellow student who was "lost to the streets of Baltimore."

"My art curriculum is informed by my students' experiences in combination with my own,” Kyriakakos writes. "As I drive through Baltimore neighborhoods, I encounter similar scenes of urban blight and destruction. Poverty causes its own trauma and helplessness, contributing to the achievement gap in our city schools. I believe that, for our urban communities to heal and rebuild, a new conversation needs to begin."

Wisconsin music education teacher and band director Gleason described in his application his work to help his students be the best they can be by providing them quality feedback not summarized "in the form of a single letter or number."

This led Gleason to found an "eight-ensemble festival [that] now includes fifty-four middle school bands covering four states."

"Nearly 3,500 students will participate just this year. Over 20,000 students have benefited from this festival over the past nine years," Gleason said.

Each application, in other words, truly exemplifies what the NTOY selection committee says here:

"The four finalists embody the character, knowledge, skills and passion of exemplary teaching. Each of the finalists empower students to own their own learning inside and outside of the classroom. The skills of these teachers transcend the classroom, as they also demonstrate the ability to engage with their peers, parents, community members, and policy makers.”

To read more about the finalists and the selection process, see here.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor


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