Tipping Our Hats to the State Teachers of the Year - National Council of Teachers of English
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Tipping Our Hats to the State Teachers of the Year

awardNCTE’s membership comprises more than 24,000 dedicated, vibrant teachers who work tirelessly for their students every day. During the 2015–2016 school year, 6 special NCTE members were honored by their respective states as 2016 Teachers of the Year. Here’s a look at some of these incredible teachers:


Diane McKee, Williams Middle Magnet School, Florida

Diane McKee, a middle school teacher, wanted a visual to motivate her students to succeed. So she hung a “red bar” from the ceiling in her classroom, and shortened the rope throughout the year to continue to encourage her students to reach for more. McKee explains, “Figuratively, the students have discovered that the bar symbolizes how we only expand our horizons when we stretch our bodies and our minds . . . . This is only possible when we truly believe in our potential.” McKee is a big believer in strengthening her relationships with students and families outside the classroom, frequently attending concerts, bake sales, and religious ceremonies. In her words, “Parents, like students, need confirmation that I believe in their child’s abilities and will continue to support the development of the whole child beyond the classroom.”

Scott Slechta, Fairfield High School, Iowa

Though Scott Slechta has been a high school English teacher for 35 years, he doesn’t allow himself to get stuck in his own ways: “As a teacher, I undergo deconstruction and rebuilding in what I do and how I do it.” Slechta’s philosophy is to acknowledge what works well but also to embrace new methods that result in higher achievement. Sletchta’s students have described him as challenging, creative, and caring, and have said they feel prepared for the future after taking his classes. One student explained, “Since he is such a good teacher, my peers are rushing to squeeze in as many of his classes as possible into their schedules. They know what a huge opportunity his classes provide.”

Ashley Lamb-Sinclair, North Oldham High School, Kentucky  

High school English teacher Ashley Lamb-Sinclair used to be reluctant toward using technology in the classroom, largely viewing it as a burden. After participating in the Redesign Challenge in DC, her perspective shifted. She explains, “Now, I see that technology is the true agent for change in education—but only if teachers are integral to the creation of the technology.” Lamb-Sinclair has since created an educational technology platform called Curio, which organizes digital resources in a virtual notebook and makes educator collaboration and inspiration exchange more user friendly. In addition to being honored as Kentucky’s Teacher of the Year, Lamb-Sinclair is a National Board Certified teacher, as well as a Fulbright and Oxford Scholar.

Rick Joseph, Birmingham Covington School, Michigan

Middle school teacher Rick Joseph entered the education profession to address systemic inequities in the US public education system. Now working in a privileged community, Joseph says he works hard to educate his students about economic inequities in the region and the world. In Joseph’s words, “The greatest reward I find in teaching is when a child tells me that they have stood up for injustice and have fought for equity.” Joseph is known for his creative instruction style, and students appreciate his unconventional approach: Joseph has brought in yoga balls instead of chairs and lets students chew gum to encourage focus. Ever involved in his school community, Joseph grew a mustache during “Movember” to raise awareness about men’s health issues, and one lucky student was selected to shave off his mustache.

Chelsea Collins, Woodstown Middle School, New Jersey

Chelsea Collins, a 6th-grade ELA teacher, is the youngest winner of the prestigious State Teacher of the Year award in at least a decade. Her district’s superintendent, Thomas Coleman, says of her, “Chelsea is a great example that teaching is an art first, and she’s a great artist.” An important component of Collins’s teaching philosophy is student choice. Not only does Collins grant students the choice of what they would like to read, but also the choice of the source, either hard copy or on an electronic device. Collins has welcomed the opportunity to mentor student teachers, saying she hopes to “model how teachers can collaborate among ages and years of experience.”

Topher Kandik, The SEED School, Washington, DC

Topher Kandik, a 10th-grade English teacher, emphasizes the value of students’ unique voices: “I value their voice on what they think is important. Often, students don’t value their ideas. I want them to figure out their own voice.” Tapping the wealth of resources available in the District, Kandik has taken students to the White House for poetry workshops and partnered with 826DC, a literacy advocacy nonprofit, to have his students’ short stories and poems published. Kandik designed a “Why New Orleans Matters” unit, which involved students comparing and contrasting low-income communities in DC and New Orleans. Kandik’s students were so inspired by the unit that they researched and pitched a plan to the school leadership for a culminating field trip to New Orleans. In the words of Kandik, witnessing his students’ enthusiasm during the unit ”was everything I love about education.”

NCTE is proud of all of our teachers, and we wish to extend congratulations to the 2016 State Teachers of the Year. Thank you for all that you do!