CCSSO Announces Four Finalists for 2016 National Teacher of the Year Award

Finalists for Nation’s Top Teaching Honor from CA, CT, OK, and WA

Jessica Pascaleimages
Opinion-Editorial Editor

The finalists for the National Teacher of the Year have many things in common. They are dedicated to their profession, working endlessly to develop the minds of our nation’s children. They allow their students to become aware of what’s going on in the world around them, not just in the classroom. They influence the country at large, starting in California, Washington, Oklahoma, and Connecticut.
A winner will be named in April. After receiving the title, the individual will spend a year traveling around the United States representing educators and advocating for both teachers and students alike.
Run by the Council of Chief State School Officers and presented by Voya Financial, the National Teacher of the Year Program identifies outstanding teachers in the country. They recognize these teachers’ exceptional work in the classroom, and invite them to use their voices to participate in policy discussions at both the state and national level.
“Excellent teachers have an impact on students that extends beyond classroom walls,” said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “They work to ensure every child receives a quality education that will set them on a course for success after graduation. These professionals are educators, engaged citizens and role models.”
“The finalists meet young people where they are, and help to guide them, enrich their lives and build character,” Minnich continued. “They are outstanding ambassadors for their profession.”
A State Teacher of the Year is selected from each state, the U.S. extra-state territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity. That group is brought to a panel that represents 15 renowned education organizations, which collectively represent millions of educators, and selects four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year Award.
The criteria for the award is specific. Above all else, the committee looks for ways in which an individual is an excellent teacher. They also look to see how the teacher is involved in the community, receives recommendations from colleagues and parents, and how the teacher can inspire students from all walks of life. After narrowing it down, the finalists are then invited to attend in-person interviews with the selection committee.

President Barack Obama will be recognizing the National Teacher of the Year in a ceremony to be held at the White House this spring.
The four finalists in 2016 are (in alphabetical order):

Nathan Gibbs- Bowling, 2016 Washington Teacher of the Year
Nathan Gibbs-Bowling teaches social studies at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, WA.
“Throughout human history there has been no greater democratizing force within societies than education,” Gibbs-Bowling writes. “It is the great equalizer; the great opportunity creator; the greatest economic stimulus ever conceived. Education has saved more lives than anything save modern medicine.”
He encompasses this train of thought in his Advanced Placement U.S. Government class, where his goal is to inspire his students to become leaders in their community. To do this, he models civic engagement for his students. Gibbs-Bowling spends time outside the classroom mentoring young men of color through the College Success Foundation Achievers Scholars Program. He also keeps in touch with former students who have gone off to college by distributing care packages.
“I am a teacher for one simple reason: I believe in the transformational and liberatory power of education- especially public education- to change the trajectories of not only individual lives, but entire communities.”

Learn more about Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, and why he was selected as a finalist.

Jahana Hayes, 2016 Connecticut Teacher of the Year
Jahana Hayes teaches history at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, CT.
“It is of no benefit to anyone if a student achieves high grades and tremendous academic success if they have no desire or knowledge of how to help others,” she writes.
Hayes became a teacher because of her own experience with education. She was the first member of her family to attend college, an accomplishment made possible by teachers who would lend her books to read at home. As a teacher now, she encourages her students to become culturally aware and helps to develop a service learning curriculum for not just her school, but the community.
Hayes believes that “students need role models who are reflective of themselves.” She has worked hard to secure grants to promote education as a career, especially for minority candidates.

Learn more about Jahana Hayes, and why she was selected as a finalist.
Daniel Jocz, 2016 California Teacher of the Year
Daniel Jocz teaches social studies at Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles, CA.
Due to his profession as a historian that specializes in American History, Jocz makes it his mission to incorporate the perspectives of all groups of people in his classroom. “The experience of African Americans, women, immigrants, workers, the poor, and LGBT individuals is American History,” he writes.
In his curriculum, Jocz challenges students to expand their definition of literacy. It goes beyond just reading and writing, and includes global, social media, popular culture, and digital literacy. As a way to reach more students, he has also created a popular history YouTube channel, participated in seven international teaching programs, and coordinates school-wide activities as a Leadership Advisor.
“As a teacher you have the opportunity to prepare students for jobs that haven’t even been created yet, awaken passions students never knew they had, and to inspire them to travel to places they never dreamt they would see.”

Learn more about Daniel Jocz, and why he was selected as a finalist.
Shawn Sheehan, 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year
Shawn Sheehan is a specialized education Algebra teacher at Norman High School in Norman, OK.
Prior to becoming a teacher, Sheehan was a job coach who worked with young adults with disabilities. He cites this as the beginning of his interest in becoming a teacher. He “wanted children to know that their disabilities and challenges should not immediately disqualify them from a more productive, successful career and life.”
He also believes in developing the narrative and morale of teachers across the nation. In 2013, Sheehan created the “Teach Like Me” Campaign, where he challenged the community and social media to find the inspiration to become teachers.
Two of Sheehan’s goals in the classroom are to build relationships with students and to help them make connections between content and real life. “I make it clear that I find joy in challenges, so when my students get stuck they know how to find the motivation within to keep pushing forward.”

Learn more about Shawn Sheehan, and why he was selected as a finalist.
To see a list of other National Teacher of the Year Program sponsors click here. For more information on the National Teacher of the Year program, click here.
The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.

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