Every state has picked its top teacher for 2017, an honor that allows bright educators to take a yearlong sabbatical in which they travel to schools across the state, headline conferences and panels, write op-eds about issues the they care about, and get some face time with policymakers.
They also are entered into the contest to be National Teacher of the Year, which gives educators an even bigger stage to advocate for their issue of choice. (Previous winners advocated for better recruitment of minority teachers, more portfolio-based assessments, and more critical thinking in classrooms.)
Today, the Council of Chief State Schools Officers announced the four finalists for National Teacher of the Year:
Megan Gross, a special education teacher at a San Diego high school;
Sydney Chaffee, a high school humanities teacher at a Boston charter school;
Athanasia Kyriakakos, a high school art teacher in Baltimore; and
Chris Gleason, a middle school instrumental music teacher in Sun Prairie, Wis.
Historically, the finalists often come from math, English/language arts, social studies, and elementary backgrounds, so the 2017 crop of finalists is poised to end a lengthy drought: A visual arts teacher hasn't won the national contest since 1979. A music teacher last won the national contest in 2007, and a humanities teacher hasn't won since 1998. A special education teacher last took home the national award in 2009. There also hasn't been a National Teacher of the Year from Massachusetts in the award's 65-year history.
This year's finalists have impressive resumes. Gross has co-authored two books about inclusion and education for special education students. Chaffee partners with Boston's Huntington Theatre Company to enable her students to explore the themes of justice and injustice through collaborative projects. Kyriakakos is a world-renowned artist who has received a Fulbright Fellowship and created artwork for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. And Gleason is also a high school band director, and his students have performed across the state.
The four finalists, along with the ultimate winner, are chosen by a national selection committee that represents 18 education and community organizations.
"The four finalists embody the character, knowledge, skills, and passion of exemplary teaching," the selection committee said in a statement. "Each of the finalists empower students to own their own learning inside and outside of the classroom."
The National Teacher of the Year will be honored by the president at a White House ceremony this spring. Jahana Hayes, a high school history teacher from Connecticut, won the award last year.
Image, left to right: Megan Gross, Sydney Chaffee, Athanasia Kyriakakos, and Chris Gleason. Images via the CCSSO.