The 40 Most Influential Teachers Under 40Teaching is an honorable profession, but teachers aren’t honored nearly enough. In business, entertainment, and sports, it’s commonplace for publications to seek out “40 to watch under 40,” highlighting young stars in their fields. At Veritas Prep, we want to honor those young superstars who have chosen to use their talents to help students maximize their own. It’s time to honor the 40 Under 40 among high school teachers.
Hundreds of teachers from across the United States were nominated by their own students, and from that esteemed group the following 40 stood out as among the most passionate, innovative, and effective teachers in the country. With their talents and abilities, expertise and work ethic, these teachers could appear on any number of these lists, in Forbes or Fortune or BusinessWeek. That they’ve devoted those talents not to making money but instead to making a difference speaks volumes about their character and passion for education. Accordingly, it is only fitting that they be recognized for what they do to better the lives of their students. With that in mind, we present the 40 Most Influential Teachers Under 40:
Akash PatelMiami Norland Senior High School, Miami Gardens, FL
Teach for America alumnus advocates self-empowerment for his students
Akash Patel says he preaches the idea of excellence to his students. He is well qualified to do so, because he has lived a life dedicated to excellence. He received both of the top two academic merit scholarships awarded by the University of California, Berkeley, and graduated with a BA in Political Economy. Following graduation, he was chosen among the top 9% of 48,000 applicants for the Teach for America program. Two summers of studying xenophobic violence in Cape Town, South Africa gave impetus to Akash’s desire to serve and create a sustainable model of academic growth. He developed a film course whose holistic approach to analytic reading, writing, and oral skill would target specific learning gaps between his students and those in higher socioeconomic brackets.
Akash pushes students to stretch and do more, to be better. “I want my students to take with them the idea that changing one’s life trajectory is not the product of a singular action or deed, but the natural result of many small positive life choices.” His commitment to excellence and demand for the same from his students led one student to describe the impact Akash has had on his life, “Personally, this teacher gave my life a 360 degree turnaround, giving me the inspiration I needed to be successful.” Akash believes that kind of self-empowerment is what good teachers always aim for.
Amanda EdwardsHighland High School, Gilbert, AZ
Pre-calculus teacher mixes strong work ethic, high academic standards, and fun
Amanda Edwards’ first successful math student was her mother. The two were attending college at the same time and Amanda tutored her mother through an algebra class. When her mother expressed her gratitude and told Amanda she couldn’t have passed without her, a career in math education was born. Amanda is a graduate of the University of Arizona – Tucson and holds a master’s degree in math education. She currently teaches pre-calculus among other math courses at Highland High School in Gilbert, AZ.
Amanda wants her students to understand that they have to work for what they want. She believes that although that lesson is not specific to mathematics, it is necessary for future successes in high school, college, and life. Amanda may have a strong work ethic and a belief in high academic standards, but she doesn’t think that necessarily precludes having fun. “I try to create a fun environment in my classroom to show the students that even a hard math class can be fun. This makes the students feel that learning even the toughest concepts can be done.” Her sentiments are echoed by one of her pre-calculus students, “Without her, I probably would have failed pre-calculus. The easygoing, fun-loving environment she has created in her classroom made it easy to connect with her and other students.”
Amanda RiceOak Hills High School, Cincinnati, OH
Master teacher builds progressive learning environment with cutting-edge technology
Mandy Rice has built a learning environment for her students based on sound educational theory; the most remarkable of which is “flipping” her class. In this scenario, lectures and presentations that can be accessed online are the students’ homework. Class time is spent interacting with the concepts – experiments, hands-on projects, discussions, and the like – under Mandy’s guidance. This cutting edge approach to using technology in the classroom changes the environment from teacher centered to student driven. She also uses Google Calendar, Quizlet, Twitter, Facebook, Remind 101, Google groups, Google forms, ThinkBinder, and Moodle technologies.
Mandy earned her BA in history at Xavier University and followed it with a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Cincinnati. Besides creating an engaging learning environment for her students, Mandy has coached softball, is an eLearning consultant, mentors first year teachers, and plans the advisory program for the junior class. She was awarded the Friend of Children PTA Award in 2012. Her efforts are paying off. One of Mandy’s students optimistically reported, “I feel that I have mastered the content of AP Psychology and am on my way to getting a 5 on the AP exam this May. I have her to thank. Her energy and enthusiasm are extremely contagious, as is evident when walking into her classroom. She takes great pride in her students.”
Benjamin HolskinPrescott High School, Prescott, AZ
Iraq veteran teaches students how to make sense of the world
Ben Holskin did not set out to become a teacher. It came more naturally to him and gradually worked itself into his life. He first started teaching while serving in the United States Army on a deployment to Iraq. He volunteered to teach high school and college level English and math equivalency classes for deployed soldiers trying to improve their General Technical scores, so they could get better jobs. Most of the soldiers he taught outranked him, but they managed to form working relationships completely free of military formality. The atmosphere of mutual respect between him and his students and the personal relationships that he’s formed along the way are what motivated him to pursue teaching as a passion and career.
He is currently an Instructor of Mathematics at Prescott High School in Yuma, AZ where he teaches his students that despite appearances, the way the world works makes complete sense if you pay close enough attention. This lesson has a mathematical component, but it also has social, environmental, and human components. According to Ben, math is not a random collection of rules and formulas; things happen for a reason. He teaches that if his students are willing to patiently and logically place together important facts, they’ll prove to themselves why formulas work, equations balance, geometric figures fit together, and what numbers and data really mean.
Caitlin ByeLibertyville High School, Libertyville, IL
Mathematician encourages her students to follow their passions
Caitlin Bye believes in pursuing your passions, even if you’re not quite sure what those are just yet. She earned an undergraduate degree in Actuarial Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but before she ever graduated she knew it wasn’t the path for her. It took a college friend pointing out how happy she was in her part-time job teaching calculus to university students for her to experience her aha! moment. “That night it clicked, and I decided to become a teacher.” Caitlin went on to earn her M.A. in Mathematics Education at the University of Minnesota.
Caitlin is fulfilling her passion at Libertyville High School teaching geometry, algebra, and her favorite – Pre-Calculus Honors. She strives to help students interact with the material in thought-provoking ways. Caitlin says, “I always leave some room at the end of this class to have fruitful discussions, because I want the students to really relate the material to their own lives.” She’s determined to teach not only math, but also what it means to work for something meaningful. Her hope is that her students leave class each day feeling that they have overcome something difficult. Caitlin’s nominating student says, “She inspires us to conquer difficult things and try our best at everything we do – the equation to reaching our dreams.”
Candis RobinsonEastern University Academy Charter School, Philadelphia, PA
Dedicated teacher on a mission to help underserved excel at math
Sometimes life moves in mysterious ways; that is exactly how Candis Robinson discovered her career in teaching mathematics. While getting her business degree in college she was also a tutor. She received so many compliments on her tutoring capabilities that she decided to pursue a career in education. After earning a master’s degree in education, she’s worked in both cyber and traditional settings and now calls Eastern University Academy Charter in Philadelphia, PA her home. Candis has a strong sense of community and offers her teaching services after school. Her mission is to help underserved students get a clear understanding of mathematics.
Candis values hard work and consistency, and she teaches her students how important those two tools are for learning. Her favorite thing about teaching is what she refers to as “light bulb moments,” when she gets to see her teaching method clicking with the hard work of the student. She doesn’t give up on her students or allow them to give up on math. One student says of her, “I have never met a math teacher who has as much patience with students as Miss Robinson.” It is her patience, dedication, and realistic teaching style that bring out the success of her students.
Carl HertWausau West High School, Wausau, WI
Marketing educator creates savvy consumers
Carl Hert has a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing Education from the University of Wisconsin, Stout. He later went on to receive a Master of Arts degree in Education from Viterbo University in Lacrosse, WI. Carl currently works as a Marketing Education teacher at Wausau West High School where he makes every class interesting and gives his students real life experience in the marketing field. Carl became a teacher because he believes the purpose of education is to foster a lifetime love of learning and make the most of each individual’s potential in the area of their interest. He puts this knowledge into his classroom by inspiring his students and helping them achieve their personal and professional goals.
Carl loves the marketing discipline; it is an area that is ever changing, forcing him to constantly evaluate and update his curriculum. He wants his students to be able to leave his classroom with an idea of what they would like to become. Even though some of his students will not be entering business or marketing, he wants them to be able to market themselves professionally whether it’s at a job interview or negotiating for a promotion. When students have a better understanding of marketing in the business world they become more well-rounded and savvy consumers.
Daniel GuralnickThe Beacon School, New York, NY
“Mind-blowing” teacher prepares students to be open-minded critical thinkers
Daniel Guralnick started his career right after college; he was offered a TESOL job and fell in love with teaching. He wants his students to leave his classroom as better critical thinkers, but more specifically he wants them to be skeptical; not cynical, but doubtful while being open-minded. He hopes that if his students are presented with an argument, no matter how self-evident it seems they will ask you how it was arrived at. Daniel says that being a teacher also allows you to be a student; you can constantly learn from and with your students. He enjoys teaching literature lessons that cover passages in novels that he doesn’t fully understand; in this way he is truly part of the act of discovery during class.
Daniel Guralnick attended New York University where he received a BA in Comparative Literature and Romance Languages. He went on to get two master’s; one in Comparative Literature from the University of Texas at Austin, and one in Education from Fordham University. He now teaches English at The Beacon High School in New York City, NY. His students rave about his classes, “His class is what learning is supposed to be, every day my mind is blown by the depth he brings out of the books.” The time spent in his classroom is never wasted, his students are constantly left wanting more, and they feel truly lucky being in his class.
Darin SimpsonNorth Central High School, Farmersburg, IN
Master level educator uses storytelling and humor to teach math
Darin Simpson became an educator to help students with mathematics, but also to prepare them for life. He uses his personality and sense of humor to connect with his students while teaching them math principles. His lesson plan “slope” shows how he uses his talents to help his students understand the concepts. By using a meter stick, he goes into a story about a weekend snow trip he took with his “rad buddy,” using a surfer accent as an added bonus. Throughout the story he is showing four different types of lines. His students enjoy this lesson because it is fun and they actually retain the information. He often has students coming back through the years talking about “snowboarder dude.” With his methods he is able to connect with his students and get them excited about math.
Darin has a master’s from Olivet Nazarene University and currently teaches at North Central High School in Farmersburg, IN. He values his relationship with his students, and they appreciate his teaching style. One student says of Darin, “I go to him because he explains things in a way I can actually understand.” The one thing Darin wants his students to leave his class having full knowledge of is that being kind and respectful towards others is the easiest way to become a great human being.
David PinkusBiotechnology High School, Freehold, NJ
Monmouth County Teacher of the Year is making a difference in the world
When physics teacher David Pinkus reflected on his career options following college, he had three requirements: he needed to make a difference in the world, work with energetic people, and do something different every day. It became apparent to him that teaching was a career that met all of these objectives. He appreciates that innovation is encouraged in education. Often he finds himself altering methods of instruction and assessment to try and achieve new ways to approach his subject matter. His constant zest for new ways to educate and reach his students is one of the many reasons he received Teacher of the Year for Monmouth County in 2013. He also has a diverse set of expectations for students, which helps them achieve more.
To bring out the best in his students when they are working in groups, he puts like-natured students together. This forces them out of their comfort zones; the more passive students now have to speak up and take control, and those who monopolize learn to work together equally. His desire is for his students to be more comfortable outside of their comfort zones; he models this by involving himself in activities that are outside of his own comfort zone, such as the faculty drama productions. Students love his class because, as one student puts it, “He makes class extremely interesting with a variety of labs and teaching methods that accommodate a wide variety of students.”
Gene ColettaPhiladelphia High School for Girls, Philadelphia, PA
Influential teacher spurs schoolwide protest...to keep him
When an entire school protests to keep a teacher from being moved to another school, you know he must be a phenomenal and influential educator. That is exactly what Gene Coletta is, and his students’ demonstration proved it with their dedication to keeping him for themselves. Gene takes difficult to understand concepts and turns them into fun and intriguing lesson plans, like his mini lab involving ice cream and root beer to teach concepts of displacement and the volume of irregularly shaped items. After the lesson ends, students enjoy root beer floats. He teaches the importance of math in his student lives but firmly believes “teaching is so much more than the content of one’s subject area.” He proves this by being a student sponsor, coaching, and starting an international travel club at the Philadelphia High School for Girls.
Gene started working with children at age fourteen, at a special needs pre-school and later as a camp counselor and youth hockey coach. But it wasn’t until he met his 12th grade English teacher that he realized what he wanted his life’s passion to be. Gene’s teacher treated him with respect and showed him that teaching is so much more than presenting material and giving tests. Gene strives to be the teacher that he admired. He says of the profession, “Teaching is helping mold a child into an educated, respectful, and proud individual.” He continues to develop his craft at Arcadia University where he is finishing his master’s degree in educational leadership.
Holly RaffaeliVandegrift High School, Austin, TX
Gifted English teacher leads students to highest AP scores in the district
Holly Raffaeli graduated from Purdue University with honors. She earned a BA in English Education, with a minor in U.S. History Education. Holly went on to attend Concordia University where she received her master’s in Education. She teaches AP English courses and a PSAT course, is the head varsity swimming and diving coach and assistant golf coach, Head English Intervention Lead, UIL Literary Criticism Coach, and NHS Council Member at Vandegrift High School in Austin, Texas. With her excellent teaching skills, her students achieved the highest AP scores on campus and in the district. She improves her students’ English language and critical reading skills with dynamic and provocative lessons.
Holly’s inspiration to become an excellent educator was a truly great teacher of her own; her goal is to pay it forward. One of Holly’s favorite lesson plans is a slam poetry project. She shows students that poetry is more than words on a piece of paper; that it can be performed, giving your audience a new perspective on your words. Her students have created some innovative slam performances using music, dance, technology, and artwork while maintaining the basic principles of poetry. Holly says, “I want to be that positive influence in a student’s life where they feel they are capable of reaching their goals.”
Jackson ShaferEssex Street Academy, New York, NY
Former New York City Teaching Fellow inspires students to be their best
Jackson Shafer is a model of academic success. He earned Bachelor of Arts degrees in History and English from Columbia University, graduating Magna Cum Laude. He went on to earn a master’s in TESOL at Lehman University, and was named a New York City Teaching Fellow before beginning his career in education. Jackson brings his enthusiasm and commitment to excellence to the classroom, inspiring his students to also want to be their best. He tries to foster personal responsibility, “I want to teach them how to be better critical thinkers and empower them to analyze not just literature, but the world around them.”
Jackson currently teaches at Essex Street Academy where he heads the theatre department and also teaches English and ESL. He says, “More than anything, I want students to be able to make connections.” Jackson’s excitement and joy for learning are infectious; one ESA student says this about him, “He wants everyone to be okay in their own skin. He wakes everyone up, and he relates classwork to daily life. He makes us laugh!” Jackson has mastered the art of helping students discover the magical relationship between life and literature.
Jeffrey SaariSan Luis High School, San Luis, AZ
Innovative teacher helps students view perceived problems as opportunities
Jeff Saari formed his desire to teach during his junior year of high school. Coming from a small copper mining town in Michigan, he saw teaching as a respectable job. His caring and compassionate teachers helped solidify his choice to teach. Jeff now teaches 10th grade world history and 11th grade American history at Yuma Union High School. He believes his students can make themselves better people through studying history. He uses examples like Abraham Lincoln who had a father who didn’t care about his education, mistreated him, and used him like a servant. These are all hardships he overcame, later becoming a remarkable President. Jeff teaches his students, “Difficulties are not necessarily bad; they can be turned into positive momentum in life.”
Jeff developed an independent study class for U.S. History online for students who have difficulty in the traditional classroom or who need to make up credits. He also uses Blogspot to provide course materials covered in class, which greatly contributes to the success of his students. Jeff puts action behind his desire for his students’ success. He paid basketball fees for a player who couldn’t afford them, as long as she continued with the sport and didn’t give up. He forfeited his planning hour so students could have an AP U.S. History class at the school. He wants his students to have opportunities to reach their potential. One grateful student said it best, “Good teachers are hard to find, and Mr. Saari is one of those good teachers.”
Jill DaboEastside High school, Lancaster, CA
English educator teaches students to value themselves while serving others
Recognizing that kids not only need a teacher, but also a role model, Jill Dabo decided to become an educator. She lives by a simple principle, “Remember who you are,” and she wants to pass that along to her students. She teaches them to value themselves and gets them to understand others by putting themselves in their shoes. One of her favorite lesson plans, “Four Corners,” teaches her students to form an opinion, see their peers’ opinions as valid, and accept everyone’s right to an opinion. It guides students to think critically about issues and listen to others’ perspectives. The exercise serves as a springboard for argumentative essay writing; students learn writing skills in an oral environment.
After receiving her BA in English from Brigham Young University, Jill went on to get her MA in English Education at San Jose State University. She currently teaches at Eastside High School where she shows students that they are positively valued, and teaches them to see the value in others. She says, “I want my students to leave my classroom willing to use the skills that they have developed to serve and help others in the community”. Jill creates a safe environment within her classroom to allow students to expand their minds, accept disagreement, and be open to new ideas.
Jordana Reisman StoneA. Philip Randolph Campus High School, New York, NY
Master Teacher with Math for America helps students appreciate deep mathematics
Jordana Reisman Stone has never backed away from a challenge. She graduated from Boston University with a degree in sociology, and a minor in math. She immediately entered the rigorous NYC Teaching Fellows program and began teaching at Philip Randolph Campus High School while working on a master’s degree. For the past four years, Jordana has been a Master Teacher with Math for America, mentoring new teachers. She currently teaches AP Calculus and Algebra 2/Trigonometry.
Jordana adopted her teaching style from her high school calculus teacher who inspired her to pursue a career in math. Her teacher made the classroom atmosphere fun and comfortable, despite working students nonstop until their AP exam. Jordana says, “Our class was a team, and we felt success and failure together.” This is the learning community Jordana hopes she’s creating for her own students, a place of mutual respect, camaraderie, and fun that fosters drive, persistence and dedication. She believes teaching goes beyond subject matter. She says, “While I certainly hope that my students master and learn to appreciate deep mathematics concepts by the time they leave my classroom, the most important lesson that I try to impart to them is to have respect for each other and themselves.”
Joshua CloutierCoral Reef Senior High School, Miami, FL
Inspirational science teacher simplifies the confusing for future scientists
Josh Cloutier has been simplifying the confusing for future scientists at Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami, FL for the past six years. A graduate of the University of New Haven, CT in chemistry and forensic science, Josh brings a unique perspective to the classroom. When he teaches the Quantum Model of the atom, he hopes to get students to question what we “know.” He believes it is his duty to inspire the next generation of scientists. “Discussing topics such as teleportation and alternate realities forces students to ponder possibilities they never considered and theorize about the ‘what ifs’ of life.” It’s clear Josh is hitting his mark; one student remarked, “Great teachers don’t just tell you how things work; they make you learn how they work. Thanks to Mr. Clou, we understand a little better how the universe works.”
Josh explains that the new generation of technophiles requires teachers who can embrace and incorporate technology into the classroom. He uses multimedia presentations, internet resources, video clips, and cell phone technology. “My students get the necessary audiovisual stimuli to enhance the traditional lecture experience.” Josh hopes his students come away from his classes with an appreciation for science, a better understanding of the physical world, and the logic and analytical skills to meet life’s challenges. “In a journal from my 3rd grade class I wrote, ‘I want to be a science teacher when I grow up.’ It would appear my dreams have come true!”
Karensa HutchensEisenhower High School, Rialto, CA
Analytical teacher develops critical thinkers through rhetorical analysis Katy Hutchens graduated from California State University – San Bernardino with a BA in English Literature, later earning an MA in English Composition. She’s been shaping minds in the Rialto Unified School District for eight years, teaching literature and composition at all levels for grades 9 – 11. Katy loves to teach Rhetorical Modes, because it gives students the necessary tools to look at the world more critically. She says, “When a person is able to think and analyze any situation, they are less likely to be taken advantage of. They become more informed citizens.”
Katy’s classes examine blogs, internet articles, and news websites to analyze the reliability of the information. She explains, “Students understand that in the world that they live in, anything can and will be published. They have learned that it is their responsibility to find out if the information that they read is reliable.” Karensa is helping to shape responsible critical thinkers of the future. As one of her students puts it, “I’ve had Mrs. Hutchens for two years now, and she has not only taught me how to be a better writer, but also a better student and person.”
Kevin BoehmVernon Township High School, Vernon, NJ
Accomplished musician guides students to prestigious national performances For Kevin Boehm, success is a by-product of passion. “Everyone has a purpose and meaning to their lives on this Earth – a lifelong melody that they are meant to share with the world,” he says. For him, it is music. He graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Music, Music Education degree from West Chester University, PA. An accomplished musician, he has earned recognition as both performer and educator. Following his lead, Kevin’s students have been selected to a number of honor choirs and participated in notable performances.
Kevin sees music as a gift that blesses the giver as much as the receiver. He feels fortunate to be able to live his passion and inspire his students. He explains, “Sharing the gift of music to my students and opening their eyes to new pieces of music is a great blessing, and one that keeps me constantly trying to introduce new and exciting experiences for them.” His students are always striving to be better. According to them, he has elevated their music to new levels that have allowed them to perform at Radio City Music Hall, the Grand Ole’ Opry, and Disney’s Epcot Park. “Under his direction, he has successfully placed many students into prestigious vocal ensembles on the All-County, Regional, All-State, All Eastern, and National levels. At the young age of 26, Mr. Boehm has impacted the lives of hundreds of students through our choir program.”
Mary TranNortheast Academy for Health Sciences & Engineering Enterprise, Oklahoma City, OK
Math teacher mentors students to accept mistakes, move forward, in math and in life
Mary Tran has been privileged to teach math at her alma mater in the Oklahoma Public School District for the last eight years. She was motivated to go into teaching by witnessing amazing teachers in her own schooling. She discovered common threads among her greatest teachers: compassion, consistency, confidence, and joy. Mary strives to be a great teacher to her students as well. She says, “Fundamentals are the most important building blocks in mathematics and in life. Without a good foundation, everything else is temporary.” She encourages students to learn to live with mathematics, and she uses real-world experiences to show them how.
One of the main ideas Mary wants to get across to her students is that while success is not always easy, it is possible. She explains, “Whether it is working the quadratic formula or writing words to explain the whys of a problem, every student has to work.” She tells students that within this framework of striving for excellence, mistakes will be made, but to just keep moving forward. Mary is sure to point out to students periodically how far they’ve come in their learning. One of her students responded to her encouragement, “No wonder we’re so tired!”
Melissa Jean-BaptisteCultural Academy For the Arts and Sciences, Brooklyn, NY
Brooklyn master level teacher inspires students to examine their life purpose
Success has come easily to Melissa Jean-Baptiste, but it is exactly the reason she became a teacher. She knew not everyone shared her educational experience, so she has dedicated her career to evening the playing field. Melissa graduated with honors, earning a master’s degree from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. She currently teaches English at the Cultural Academy for the Arts & Sciences, and is an adjunct professor at Kingsborough Community College, both in Brooklyn, NY.
Melissa thinks it’s important to talk with students about legacy. She teaches a unit around the concept, exploring what it really means to know someone else and what their purpose is. Students examine their own life purpose and learn that what they say and do matters and has an effect on other people. She encourages them to develop a purpose and some guiding principles to live by, to make a contribution to the world. Melissa also teaches resilience, “Each day you wake up and make it a mission to gather a new thought or learn a new life lesson, it makes it that much harder for the world to knock you down. You won’t always have your parents or teachers to be there beside you and guide you, but you will always have what you’ve learned and that is something no one can take away from you.”
Micah NelsonIPS Center for Inquiry School 2, Indianapolis, IN
Master level social science teacher on a mission to create global citizens
In the wake of 9/11, Micah Nelson changed her career path. In discussions with fellow college students, she realized many did not have the slightest understanding of world events. She felt as though the system failed them; here they were at a well-respected university and they were never pushed to think critically about world events. Many had an overly simplistic view of complicated issues and histories, which prompted her to add an education degree onto her history degree. Micah has been inspiring students to take an interest in world events ever since. She makes it her mission to create global citizens that understand how interconnected our world is, and what role they can play in making it a better place.
Micah graduated from Purdue University with a BA in Social Studies Education and a BA in History. She went on to get an MS in Education at Butler University. She currently teaches at IPS Center for Inquiry School 2 where she instructs her students that they live in a much bigger world than what is right outside their doors. Micah challenges her students and ignites their passion for learning. One student said of her, “Every single scholar that graces her threshold has changed for the better. Without Ms. Nelson, our thirst for exploration would still be buried deep within ourselves, and we would forever be grasping for that little light in the darkness.” Micah set out to have her students think critically about the world, ignite passion within them, and be lifelong learners, and according to her students she’s done just that.
Michelle LampinenBiotechnology High School, Freehold, NJ
Biotechnology High Teacher of the Year wants students to question everything
Michelle Lampinen came to teaching mid-career. She went from corporate world escapee to National Board Certified Teacher in just a few short years. She is the epitome of the ‘follow your bliss’ philosophy. Michelle says of the transition from corporate to academic life, “For once in my life, I found something that I felt passionate about. I remember reading assignments for my Foundations of Education class and crying because I believed so strongly in what I was reading.”
It is easy to see why Michelle earned the Teacher of the Year award at Biotechnology High School in Freehold, NJ and was nominated by her principal to Princeton University’s Distinguished Secondary Teaching Awards. She has an infectious joy for education, and as one student puts it, “Ms. Lampinen is one of those teachers that when you are a student in their class, you can just feel the passion that they have for their subject.” Michelle teaches English and Digital Literacy and can boil down everything she tries to instill in her students to two words: Question everything. She says, “If my students venture into the world knowing only to question everything, I’m a happy camper!”
Miguel GutierrezMater Dei High School, Santa Ana, CA
AP English teachers uses literature to teach about life
Miguel Gutierrez teaches AP English and Composition, English Literature, and American Literature at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, CA. A graduate of UC, Irvine, he holds a master’s degree in English. His love affair with literature began in first grade when he read the literature textbook cover to cover in the first couple days of school. During his junior year of high school, his English teacher inspired him to love reading and writing enough to choose English as his major in college. He became a teacher because of a deep desire to share his enthusiasm with the next generation of students.
Miguel uses literature to teach about life. In one of his favorite lessons, he teaches “the river vs. the shore” from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He uses the lesson to transcend the racist stereotypes in the novel and show them that it’s really a story about friendship and love. Miguel heavily emphasizes critical thinking, writing, and effective communication in his classes, because he believes those skills are necessary to help students prepare for college no matter what they major in. His students appreciate his genuine concern for their well-being. One of them has this to say about him, “I have never had such an involved, caring teacher. He is by far the best teacher I have ever had.”
Michael FunfarUpper St. Clair High School, Pittsburgh, PA
Leadership facilitator empowers students through Magna Award winning program
Mike Funfar believes in the power of leadership. A math teacher in the Pittsburgh, PA suburban school district of Upper St. Clair, he reaches outside the confines of the classroom to empower students in two leadership programs. He selects and trains high school juniors to mentor incoming freshmen in their homerooms, easing their transitions from middle school to high school. Mike is also a facilitator in the district’s summer leadership academy that was a 2013 Magna Award winner. The program exposes students to personal, organizational, and world leadership efforts.
When he isn’t developing the next generation of world leaders, he’s finding innovative ways to make geometry and algebra 2 accessible and meaningful to his students. “I am always looking for ways to make mathematics more accessible for my students and to build meaningful real world connections with the material.” One way of doing that is with a lesson plan he created after Hurricane Katrina that reflected the flooding of New Orleans and the process of draining it in a linear model. Students describe him as funny with a knack for keeping everyone interested. Mike’s special talent for inspiration is obvious; as one student put it, “Before having him, I thought I was bad at math, but now, math is probably my favorite subject and I feel empowered.”
Mikki CastorFrontier High School, Mansfield, TX
Mathematics instructor shows students real world applications
A graduate of West Texas A&M University, Mikki received her bachelor’s in Kinesiology with a Math Teaching Certificate. She was magna cum laude and on the President’s and Dean’s Lists. Mikki currently teaches mathematics at Frontier High School in in Mansfield, TX, and is referred to by one of her students as “the most influential teacher I have ever met.” One of her favorite lesson plans is teaching the unit circle because of all of its applications in trigonometry. Students tend to struggle with it at first but once they get it, they get it, and it stays with them for the rest of their high school math career.
Mikki was motivated to become a mathematics teacher because explaining how or why something works in math has always come to her naturally. She enjoys connecting with her students and being able to simplify math in a way they can understand. Although she teaches the value of math, she also wants to make a difference in her students’ educational experience by being a confidante as well. Mikki acknowledges, “Life isn’t all about math, but math is in life; the logic, the processing, it’s used all the time, we just don’t call it math in the real world.”
Nathan TheriaultMt. Blue High School, Farmington, ME
Social science educator helps students courageously ask the tough questions
Nate Theriault is a fourth year social studies teacher at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, ME. It was his immense love of the liberal arts that drew him into teaching. He is always striving to create challenging situations where students have to muddle through contradictory evidence, theories, and explanations to draw their own conclusions. Nate says that although he loves their eureka moments, he equally loves when they leave class in a cloud of confusion. Then he knows he’s got them thinking. “Every day I try to show my students the value, complexity, and joy of an examined life.”
Nathan thinks that teaching the Civil War is one of the best ways to get students thinking about the nature of American ideals like freedom and racial equality. He also thinks it’s the best way to get them to consider the role of government in a free society. It’s then a short jump to how what happened in the past relates to the present. Lessons like these invite students to learn to be skeptical freethinkers, and to develop the courage to ask tough questions and the discipline to research the answers. “After all,” he says, “you can make a career out of a great question.”
Nathan PipesEarl Warren High School, San Antonio, TX
AP social science teacher is model of continuous self-improvement
Nathan Pipes is a model of continuous self-improvement and lifelong learning for his students. He teaches a composite of regular, pre-AP, and AP social studies courses and serves as both the Sociology and Psychology Content Leader at Warren High School in San Antonio, TX. Simultaneously, he is working towards his master’s degree in history at the University of Texas – San Antonio. Nathan believes in the oneness of teaching and learning, and is certain he learns as much from teaching as from his own studies. “Teaching is a means of developing students and oneself. The profession enables me to continue learning new things. As the students grow, so do the teachers.”
Nathan is dedicated to bringing students to an awareness that truth is inherently plural. He also wants students to understand the importance of thinking for oneself rather than mindlessly following the crowd. These skills provide a pathway for students to become compassionate, yet thoughtful citizens. “If they can acquire these things, they will learn to be understanding and sensitive,” he explains. He’s getting his point across to his students, one of whom says, “Mr. Pipes has influenced me not to just learn some of a subject, but to learn as much as possible and to strive for deeper knowledge in everything.”
Nick LincolnImhotep Institute Charter High School, Philadelphia, PA
Fourth generation teacher inspires and empowers next generation
Nick Lincoln comes from a long line of teachers. His mother taught kindergarten for 30 years, and his great-grandfather taught mathematics at the college level. He is a fourth generation teacher in his family and wanted to become an educator to inspire and empower the next generation. He doesn’t see his teaching rewards solely in the form of a paycheck. His payment comes when a struggling reader finishes their first novel, when a student is the first to graduate in their family, and simply from the love and gratitude he receives from the community he adores. Nick says, “We as teachers are working diligently to awaken a revolution. Our students will be the catalyst that propels this world forward.” This is why he gets up every day excited to teach.
Nick teaches at the Imhotep Institute Charter High School in Philadelphia, PA. Prior to his first year of teaching he was trained at the Freedom Writer’s Institute with Erin Gruwell. This is where he learned his favorite lesson, The Line Game. The class is divided into two groups on opposite sides of a line drawn down the middle of the room. The teacher asks yes or no questions that become increasingly personal. Students advance toward the line with yes answers. The aim is for students to recognize their similarities. Nick credits the game with bringing unity and empathy to the classroom. He explains, “They must become the generation of tolerance and love, because it is the only answer to the ailments of our society.”
Nikki KillenClinton-Massie Schools, Clarksville, OH
Upper level writing instructor shows students how to think, not what to think
Nikki Killen has a long history of academic excellence culminating in an MA from Miami University in Ohio. Her enthusiasm for education is boundless. Not only does Nikki teach 11th and 12th grade English with Clinton-Massie Schools in Clarksville, OH, but she also serves as the English department chair, teaches three dual enrollment courses with Urbana University, is the National Honor Society advisor and a class advisor, and serves as a committee member for a charitable fund. In her spare time, she coaches girls’ basketball. During summers you’ll find her at Miami University co-teaching workshops for the Ohio Writing Project. She aims to transfer that level of enthusiasm to her students.
Nikki teaches a lesson she calls “Another Brick in the Wall” based on the Pink Floyd song by the same name. In it, she asks students to question the very purpose of education. She hopes that through their exploration, students discover the need to take ownership of their own lifelong learning and view the role of formal education as an opportunity to learn how to think, not what to think. Nikki explains her goal for her students, “They need to learn that they are in control of their lives. Their knowledge and awareness of the world around them and their ability to convey what they think in writing or in speaking is paramount to their ability to navigate the struggles they will face in the future.”
Rory HughesThurston High School, Redford, MI
Ambitious teacher outfits classroom with Chromebooks
“Question everything.” Of all the things Rory Hughes wants his students to learn from his class, this is the most important to him. He took his own advice when after graduating from the University of Tennessee with a degree in journalism; he questioned what he was doing and made the switch from business to teaching. He says, “After some stints making real money in soulless industries, I decided to make no money in the most important industry. Best decision I ever made.” Now he teaches in an urban classroom and uses his business skills to get his students what they need. His most ambitious and successful initiative was outfitting his entire classroom with Chromebooks using GoFundMe.com.
Rory likens teaching to brainwashing students, but says better for him to do it than their peers or celebrities. Joking aside, Rory is deeply committed to the positive changes that can be effected through education. He explains, “I truly believe that properly educating the next generation is the only path to a just society. Rather than education being a means to compete in the global economy, I see it as a means to contribute to the local community.” It’s that kind of commitment that makes colleagues say, “Mr. Hughes is everything a teacher should be.”
Ryan ClarkAbraham Lincoln High School, San Jose, CA
Teaching engineer aids in Honduran sustainable development water project
Ryan Clark is passionate about getting kids interested in science, engineering, computer science, and other fields where the need is great. He holds a BS degree in civil engineering and a teaching credential in physics, both from Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, CA. He currently teaches physics at Abraham Lincoln High School in Jose, CA. His concern is that students aren’t being adequately prepared in science and technology and have no real idea of the career alternatives in those areas. One of his own favorite undertakings outside of teaching is a sustainable development water project in Honduras.
Ryan believes that real learning is driven by the natural curiosities of the learner, so he tries to provide an engaging environment that instills wonder and a sense of curiosity in his students. He particularly enjoys presenting students with an opportunity to do end-of-the-year projects. They choose physics related topics that inspire them. “I feel that this experiential learning is invaluable. These are the things that will really stick with them as genuine learning experiences.” Ryan’s students agree and respond positively to his penchant for student engagement. As one student puts it, “As hard as physics is, he finds fun and memorable demos to show in class. This kind of teaching helps students learn the material and remember it.”
Sarah BrewerAlabama School of Math and Science, Mobile, AL
Mathematician, artist, and filmmaker demonstrates the beauty of math to students
Sarah Brewer has that rare combination of brilliance and accessibility. She graduated summa cum laude – twice, with a BFA in art history and ceramics, and a BS in mathematics from the University of South Alabama. She also holds a master’s in mathematics from the same university. Sarah has presented a number of talks in mathematics; written, directed, and acted in several short films; exhibited numerous art installations; participated in musical performances, and earned a bevy of awards, including Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award for the Math, Sciences, and Engineering.
A gifted mathematician, visual artist and performing artist, Sarah humorously explains what motivated her to choose teaching, “A love of learning and being a student got me into teaching. Because it’s not realistic to be a student in a classroom for the rest of my life, I chose the next best thing.” She found her own high school math classes to be boring and uninspiring, so when a group of college professors showed her that mathematics could be both interesting and beautiful, she was hooked. Sarah doesn’t see dissonance in math and art, but instead jokes about her favorite lesson – graphing rational functions and the sums of trigonometric functions by hand, “Graphs allow us to explore rates of change and asymptotic behavior among other functional characteristics, but mostly, I just like any excuse to draw pictures in math class.”
Sarah IshidaCanoga Park High School, Canoga Park, CA
Former FFA participant coaches a new generation of FFA members
Sarah Ishida is a 6th year teacher, currently assigned to her alma mater at Canoga Park High School in Los Angeles, CA. She teaches Marine Biology, Agricultural Biology, Plant and Soil, and Japanese. Her involvement with FFA (Future Farmers of America) as a high school student made such an impact on her life, that she is grateful to be an FFA Advisor now. She coaches Canoga Park High FFA members to compete against other high school teams around the state, helping them to develop exceptional leadership and public speaking skills. Sarah is also in charge of the horticulture area of the 1.5 acre farm on campus, including two state-to-the-art greenhouses.
Sarah believes in a hands-on philosophy of education, and says, “The best way to learn is to do it yourself.” Her favorite lesson in her Plant and Soil class includes a demonstration by members of the California Rare Fruit Growers and culminates in student grafted trees that they can take home and plant in their yards. Above all, Sarah wants students to understand that hard work will determine life’s opportunities. She explains, “Opportunities will not appear on a silver platter. Your actions now will define which doors will open and who you will become in the future.”
Sean RobinsonMorris Hills High School, Rockaway, NJ
Morris Hills Outstanding Teacher of the Year encourages commitment to excellence
Growing up with a dad who was a math and science teacher inspired Sean Robinson to get into the education field. After receiving his BA in Education, graduating magna cum laude from Kutztown University, he went on to receive a master’s in the Art of Teaching MAT/DLM from Marygrove College. Numerous accolades include Outstanding Teacher of the Year – Morris Hills High School, National Science Foundation Grant Winnner, and State Indoor track and Field Coach of the Year, among others. He currently teaches at the Academy of Mathematics, Science, and Engineering as a biotechnology instructor. Sean hopes to provide his students with a worthwhile educational experience like his father did.
Sean has a favorite lesson he likes to use with his students. He teaches a role-play lesson called, “Protein Synthesis – Mission Impossible.” Students take on roles of organic macromolecules and subunits to construct a polypeptide sequence of a lethal enzyme. It’s a fun way to learn how a complex chemical event happens. The main lesson Sean wants students to come away with is that the impossible is possible. “I work hard to inspire my students to open their minds to what can be achieved once they commit themselves to daily excellence.”
Shannon MurphreeEarly College Of Arvada, Arvada, CO
Rhetoric teacher empowers students to become informed citizens, savvy consumers
Shannon Murphree teaches English full-time at Early College at Arvada in Arvada, CO. She is completing a master’s degree in Rhetoric & the Teaching of Writing at the University of Colorado – Denver. She brings her love of rhetoric into the classroom in a unit titled “Analyzing Arguments!” Her students feel empowered because they are able to recognize how the world tries to influence them. Shannon sees teaching rhetoric as a means of preparing students to be citizens rather than consumers. She says, “I love it because I know my students will be capable of holding their own against the tide of advertising that assaults them every minute of the day.”
While Shannon has a passion for rhetoric, she also knows the power of narrative. Through the study of literature, she wants her students to realize that they are the authors of their lives. She believes literature helps people realize that trials and enemies are a part of life, there to be triumphed over rather than bemoaned and avoided. Shannon wants her students to understand that reading and writing are tools of self-knowledge.
Thomas GalloMills Godwin High School, Richmond, VA
Veteran physics teacher dedicated to improving young minds
Tom Gallo’s primary motivation behind a science career brimming with accolades is to improve young minds and the society they will create. He holds a BS degree in physics from James Madison University with minor concentrations in mathematics, philosophy, and political science. Tom is a veteran physics teacher at Henrico County Public Schools outside Richmond, VA, and trains science teachers through Hampton University’s Physics Is Elementary program. He believes that well-trained science teachers are the key to student engagement and scientific curiosity.
Tom draws praise from his students that rivals the already overwhelming admiration garnered from the professional science community. According to one enthusiastic student, “Approval of Mr. Gallo’s teaching methods is evident. Before school, hordes of students occupy his room and discuss his latest lecture, adorn his board with complex problems (e.g., circuitry) to discuss with Mr. Gallo, come in for extra help on homework, or prepare for a test.” Tom’s Phun Physics Phridays is another curriculum hit among students and further demonstrates his commitment to their futures and the future of science. One student expressing appreciation says, “He inspires his students to create a better tomorrow by devoting a lecture to fascinating new developments in the field of physics, topics which are not covered on the AP exam or the state examination.”
Tracy PostCarlynton Jr/Sr High School, Carnegie, PA
Social sciences teacher delivers tough lesson in economics
Tracy Post was inspired to become a teacher through her work at an all-girls summer camp. She enjoyed the girls so much that it prompted her to return to school in pursuit of a career in education. She earned a BA in Social Sciences – Secondary Education, and then went on to complete a Masters of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction, graduating summa cum laude in both programs. Tracy currently works for Carlynton Jr/Sr High School in Carnegie, PA where she teaches various social studies courses.
Tracy prides herself on teaching her students core content knowledge, but primarily hopes they learn life lessons and take accountability for their choices. She thinks students feel empowered when they are mature and responsible enough to make good choices with a little guidance. Tracy encourages her students to always do research and collect information so they can make well-informed decisions about anything in their lives. Her favorite economics lesson plan is when she has her students plan out their next five years following graduation, examining all the hurdles and realities of life. She explains that it gives them a genuine understanding of what will need to be done both financially and educationally to achieve the lives they desire.
Tyler MillsapDa Vinci Charter Academy, Davis, CA
Humanities educator teaches students to recognize role in shaping the future
After experimenting with other career options, Tyler Millsap found he was best suited to work as a teacher. He discovered that for him direct interaction with students was the best way to effect change in the world. Tyler has two overriding goals for his students. He wants them to leave his classroom feeling empowered to question the status quo, and he wants them to be able to derive meaning from the things they learn. He says, “I hope students feel that they have a role in shaping how the future unfolds rather than feeling that they are passive players in the world.”
Tyler earned a bachelor’s from California State University, Chico and later a master’s in Education from National University. He teaches English and Social Studies at Da Vinci Charter Academy in Davis, CA. His students know every time they step into his classroom they will be working hard, but they don’t mind, “Mr. Millsap truly cares about his students’ success in and out of the classroom. He is a fantastic teacher.”
Valerie ThompsonUniversity High School, Irvine, CA
Chemistry teacher shows students they are more than their grades
Valerie Thompson graduated magna cum laude from the University of San Diego with a BA in Biology; she followed with an MS in Plant Biology from the University of California, Davis. Valerie was on a path to teach biology in college, when she discovered that she could no longer tolerate the tedium of the research lab in her doctorate program, and traded it for the excitement of the classroom. After obtaining her teaching credential, she began teaching sciences in high school. Her current assignment is at University High School, Irvine, CA.
Valerie likes the challenge of making difficult concepts interesting. She teaches a lesson on colligative properties, including freezing point depression by making ice cream. “They almost forget that they are learning difficult concepts while they are having fun. It’s very gratifying to be so stealth in my tactics.” Even more than making difficult chemistry concepts easy to learn, Valerie wants to teach students not to let their worlds revolve around competitive grades. She believes students should give some thought to what success means to them. She also teaches them to be more gracious to others instead of so self-absorbed. As Valerie explains, “If you always put yourself at the top of the ladder, you are going to be up there alone.”