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Everything You Want to Know About Being a State Teacher of the Year

Educators can pursue excellence by earning online teaching degrees.

There are outstanding educators in communities near and far, teaching every subject imaginable—from math and music to social studies and ethnic studies. In the United States, a long-running teacher of the year awards program recognizes more than 50 of these top educators annually.

Teachers of the year are selected by U.S. states and territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education.1 The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) honors this annual cohort of preK–12 state teachers of the year as part of its National Teacher of the Year awards program. The organization provides a year of enrichment opportunities and selects one of the educators to serve as National Teacher of the Year.2


“State teachers of the year represent the millions of teachers in this nation showing exceptional and innovative teaching, a demonstrated ability to reach all students, and an ability to collaborate with colleagues and teacher leadership outside the classroom,” the CCSSO says on its website.3

Selecting State Teachers of the Year

The criteria and nomination and selection processes differ by state and location. Nominees for New York’s teacher of the year must have a minimum of five years of current teaching experience, for example.4 In California, candidates must have at least eight years of experience.5

A shared goal among all programs is finding preK–12 leaders and innovators who exemplify the best in teaching. “Each of these teachers represents a creative, tenacious passion for students and the teaching profession,”1 the CCSSO says of the 56 educators who are 2021’s state teachers of the year.6

You can learn more about eligibility for your state’s teacher of the year awards program by contacting a coordinator from this list: Nominate a State Teacher of the Year.

A ‘Class of 2021’ Snapshot

The 2021 honored educators “teach a variety of subjects in all types of settings, from a one-room schoolhouse in Montana to the Ohio School for the Deaf to a German immersion elementary school in Wisconsin,” the CCSSO says. “Overall, 28 teach at the elementary level, nine at the middle school level, and 15 teach at the high school level. One teaches in a K–8 school and three teach at combined secondary schools serving both middle and high school students.”6

State Teacher of the Year Opportunities

There is a different flavor to each state’s or region’s program, but typically each state teacher of the year serves as an ambassador-at-large from the education community. In Tennessee, teacher of the year duties include giving speeches and making presentations; meeting with community groups, businesses, government officials, and others; and serving as an advocate for education.7

CCSSO offers state teachers of the year “one-of-a-kind professional learning opportunities,” the CCSSO says, “… to elevate the voices of teachers and ensure that teachers are leaders in state and national policy conversations.” Previous events have included an induction program hosted by Google in Palo Alto, California, and meetings with policymakers in Washington, D.C.7

Becoming a National Teacher of the Year

Each year, one of the nominated state teachers of the year is selected as CCSSO’s National Teacher of the Year. A selection committee reviews the state teacher of the year applications and narrows the field to four finalists. After interviews with the candidates, the committee vote decides who the National Teacher of the Year will be. The CCSSO has been involved with the program since it began in 1952.8

For 2021, the National Teacher of the Year is Juliana Urtubey, who teaches at Kermit R. Booker Sr. Innovative Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada.9 As is customary for the national honoree, Urtubey is spending her year of service away from the classroom, acting as spokesperson and ambassador “to bring national public attention on the importance of excellence in teaching,” the CCSSO says.10

Growing Educational Excellence

If becoming a state teacher of the year is a career goal, you may want to expand your expertise by earning a teaching degree online.

Walden University’s education degree programs are designed for working professionals who want to earn a degree online while staying engaged in their careers. In fact, while earning an online teaching degree, you can put what you’re learning to use right away in your own classroom.

The accredited university, which counts more than 180 state teachers of the year among its students and alumni, offers online degree programs to help promote career growth and development. In Walden’s MS in Education (MSEd) degree program, you can focus your studies on your professional goals. Choose one of 15 MSEd specializations, including a self-designed option for further customization. Some MSEd specializations even offer the choice of an accelerated track.

If you have an MSEd and are ready to take your education to the next level, earning a Doctor of Education (EdD) can help prepare you for education leadership at the highest level. As a Walden online EdD candidate, you’ll have access to the most current teachings and theories. Walden’s EdD online degree program offers specializations that include Early Childhood Education (Non-Licensure) and Community College Leadership.

There are other online teaching degree programs available, too, including a BS in Elementary Education (Teacher Licensure), Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) – Special Education, and Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) – Elementary Education.

The accredited university honors state teachers of the year by offering these outstanding educators a full-tuition scholarship when they enroll in a degree or certificate program in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Human Sciences. Learn more here: 2021 State Teachers of the Year Scholarship.

An Enrollment Specialist can provide more information about Walden’s online bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral education degree programs. Then, you can chart your path to excellence with a teaching degree that supports your career goals and aspirations.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering online teaching degrees, including an MS in Education (MSEd) online degree program with multiple specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,