Print this Page

Press Release

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

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
Contact:Olympia Meolaolympia.meola@ccsso.org202-336-7071

Washington, D.C. (January 12, 2016) -- These educators develop sharp minds and strong characters. They stoke social awareness in their students and expand their classrooms into the larger communities.

Their influence spans the country, from California and Washington to Oklahoma and Connecticut.

They are the finalists for the 2016 National Teacher of the Year. One of them will be named the 2016 National Teacher of the Year in April, and spend a year traveling the nation to represent educators and advocate on behalf of teachers and students.

The National Teacher of the Year program, run by the Council of Chief State School Officers and presented by Voya Financial, identifies exceptional teachers in the country, recognizes their effective work in the classroom, amplifies their voices, and empowers them to participate in policy discussions at the state and national levels. 

"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."

Every year, exemplary teachers from each state, the U.S. extra-state territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity are selected as State Teachers of the Year. From that group, a panel representing 15 renowned education organizations, which collectively represent millions of educators, selects four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year based on a set of criteria.

Specifically, the committee looks at criteria such as in what ways this individual is an excellent teacher, the teacher's community involvement, recommendations from parents and colleagues, and the teacher's work to inspire students from all backgrounds.

The National Teacher of the Year is then selected among the finalists after rigorous in-person interviews with the selection committee.

The President of the United States will recognize the National Teacher of the Year in a White House ceremony 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 embodies and teaches this logic in his Advanced Placement U.S. Government class where he hopes to inspire community leaders and teachers. To do this, he models civic engagement for students. Gibbs-Bowling mentors young men of color through the College Success Foundation Achievers Scholars Program and distributes in-person care packages to former students who are now in college.

"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 cites personal experiences as her reason for becoming a teacher. She is the first in her family to attend college, and gratefully recalls teachers in her life who let her borrow books to read at home. Today, she passes on this work by promoting cultural awareness and developing service learning curriculum for her school and community.

Hayes believes that, "Students need role models who are reflective of themselves." To that end, she has helped 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.

As a historian specializing in American History, Jocz works to incorporate the perspectives of all groups of people into his classroom. "The experience of African Americans, women, immigrants, workers, the poor, and LGBT individuals is American History," he writes.

Jocz has created a curriculum that challenges students to not narrowly define literacy as just reading and writing, but also to include global, social media, popular culture, and digital literacy. To help achieve these goals he created a popular history YouTube channel, has participated in seven international teaching programs, and coordinates school-wide activities as 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.

Sheehan's interest in teaching developed from working with young adults with disabilities as a job coach. He says he became a teacher because 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 our nation's teachers. In 2013, Sheehan created the "Teach Like Me" Campaign, through which he engaged the community and social media to inspire others to become teachers. 

Building relationships with students and helping them to make connections between content and real life is paramount to Sheehan. "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.