January 30, 2023

Four teachers have been nominated as finalists for National Teacher of the Year each year for the past three decades. But this year, five teachers were found worthy of the honor.

The Council of Chief State Schools Officers on Wednesday announced the finalists for the national award, which honors teachers for their work inside and outside of the classroom. A spokesman said the selection committee followed a rigorous process to select the finalists from a pool of 55 State Teachers of the Year and produced a list of five. Coming from the nation’s capital to the top corner of Alaska, they represent the passion, creativity and heart of the profession.

The teacher who receives the national award is granted a one-year sabbatical to represent the profession and engage in an issue of their choice.

The finalists are:

  • Harlee Harveya 1st grade teacher in Point Hope, Alaska;
  • Carolyn Kielmaa high school science teacher in Bristol, Connecticut;
  • Jermar Rountree; an 8th grade preschool physical education and health teacher in the District of Columbia;
  • Kimberly Radostits; an 8th-12th grade Spanish teacher in Oregon, Illinois; and
  • Rebekah Petersena high school math teacher in Tulsa, Okla.

The finalists have different experiences and interests

For the past nine years, Harvey has taught at the Tikiġaq School, located at the extreme northwestern point of the state. The community, which is predominantly made up of Iñupiaq, a group of Alaskan Native people, is only accessible by boat or plane.

Most non-local teachers leave the school after two years, but Harvey, who was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, has developed strong relationships with her students and the community.

“As a teacher coming from outside the community, I have had to humble myself to be effective,” she wrote in her application. “As a teacher, it’s easy to think that we need to be experts at everything we teach. This is not possible when trying to integrate a culture other than your own. … There are so many occasions when I learn in my classroom, along with my students who willingly and proudly share their knowledge and traditions with me.”

In her application, Harvey highlighted her incorporation of culturally appropriate practices into the classroom, as well as her work in implementing a program of intervention and support for positive behavior at school rooted in the Iñupiaq values ​​of respect, responsibility and collaboration.

If she were named national teacher of the year, Harvey said she would focus on how collaboration and strong communication can create conditions in schools where teachers want to stay and students want to learn.

Kielmam has taught science at Bristol Eastern High School in Connecticut for 15 years. She recently established an ecology unit on wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone National Park, and then in 2020 won a grant to visit the area to study the wolves, bears and other species and enrich her teaching.

“When my students witness my excitement as I share my images, research and experiences with them, they feel empowered. I then encourage them to take an active part in transforming their community,” Kielman wrote in her application. “Although I use wolves to teach it, this is just another way I teach students that people of all races, identities, orientations, physical abilities, languages ​​and/or immigration status have value and are treated with respect, humanity, should be accepted and treated and understanding.”

Kielman also teaches an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) class and is the coordinator of her school’s college readiness program. In 2019, more than 80 percent of the school’s AVID students were black, received free or discounted lunches, and had parents who did not have college or university degrees. Still, every student graduated from high school on time, and 92 percent enrolled in college. (The others enlisted in the military or attended a technical school.)

Kielman wrote that AVID has rekindled her love of education, and she also serves as AVID’s staff developer to train teachers in the program nationwide.

As national teacher of the year, she wrote, she would work to inspire students of all backgrounds to become educators in hopes of diversifying the profession.

Rountree has been teaching in the nation’s capital since 2012. He teaches at the Center City Public Charter School, Brightwood Campus, and is also the Director of Instructors for the Physical Education and Health Department of the charter network of six schools.

In his application, Rountree highlighted his wellness initiatives, including a unit on healthy eating habits, securing a stipend for his students to buy bicycles, and partnering with an organization to allow college athletes to provide students with education on nutrition, mental health and sexual health give wellbeing .

“Unfortunately, as my career has progressed, I’ve seen the length of my physical education classes shrink year by year,” Rountree wrote in his application. “Knowing how closely linked exercise and physical education classes are to academic success and psychological well-being, I quickly became an advocate for not only maintaining, but increasing the time students spend doing physical activity during their school day.”

Rountree is already working on this issue in the District of Columbia, and he wrote that as National Teacher of the Year, he would urge schools across the country to ensure that all students have opportunities to move their bodies throughout the school day .

Radostits is a National Board-Certified Instructor at Oregon Junior/Senior High School in Illinois. In addition to teaching Spanish, she runs a freshman mentoring program to ensure students who are struggling stay on track to graduate from high school. She is also co-director of a New Teacher Academy, which provides professional development and support to new hires in her district.

“Although I love teaching Spanish and sharing my knowledge ‘orgullo’ (Proud) for the Spanish speaking world, my content is simply a vehicle to connect with my students,” she wrote in her application. “My true passion is making sure every student I have feels known and valued and grows into a productive, responsible member of society who demonstrates compassion and resilience.”

To that end, improving undergraduate dropout rates has been most of her life’s work, Radostits wrote. In 2007-08, her high school averaged 273 Fs per year for a class of 130 freshmen. From 2019 to 2020, there were just 16 failing grades in the freshman class — a result Radostits attributed to an early warning system that helped her pilot it. The system, which indicates missing work, absenteeism and lack of school affiliation in middle school, allowed the school to identify new freshmen who need additional support.

As national teacher of the year, she said she emphasizes the importance of teacher-student relationships, partnerships with families, and support and collaboration among educators.

Peterson, who teaches math at Union High School in Oklahoma, is also a regular contributor to the One Good Thing blog‘ dedicated to sharing the good things in the classroom. As State Teacher of the Year, she visits all 77 counties and shares teachers’ stories of hope, tenacity and creativity on social media– a project inspired by Humans of New York, the social media phenomenon that interviewed thousands of people on the streets of New York City.

in your application, Peterson wrote that blogging about a good thing that happened every day “saved her career” as a new teacher at a large urban high school. She now encourages her students to also write about the good during Free Write Fridays, which has inspired some to continue the practice in their free time — including as adults and as teachers themselves. Peterson also sends each of theirs to parents and guardians 120 students a celebration letter about their child.

“How We Are Influencing the World: In a culture that wants everything now, we must teach our children to develop practices that foster awareness, compassion and gratitude,” she wrote in her application. “To impact their community and nurture belonging, they must recognize that change requires dedication, reflection and listening. Change happens when we decide to do the next right thing. This is the practice of joy.”

As National Teacher of the Year, Peterson said she would highlight the gratitude for and celebration of teachers. An immigrant of Swedish-Iranian descent and the daughter of medical missionaries, Peterson credited her own teachers with making her feel welcome and empowered as a child.

A national winner will be chosen in the spring

Finalists were selected from a pool of State Teachers of the Year from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and the US Territories.

A selection committee made up of 16 representatives from educational groups selected the finalists based on their written applications and will select a national winner this spring based on interviews with each of the finalists.

Kurt Russell, a history teacher from Ohio, won the national award in 2022.

Typically, the national winner and other state teachers of the year are honored in a White House ceremony in the spring. President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden honored Teachers of the Year 2022 in April.

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