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The Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards

The annual Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards publicly recognize specific teachers by spotlighting their extraordinary impact on the lives of students. The Awards celebrate the teaching profession, the important role of teachers in society, and seek to inspire others to pursue this noble profession. Nominated by students they once taught, these former students' stories exemplify the power one teacher has to inspire others and transform lives.

Find out more about how to nominate your teacher for the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards.

Nominations for the 2019 cycle of the Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards are currently being accepted.

2011 Awardees

Matthew Karkutt Nominated by Matthew Karkutt

"Ms. Christi Davis taught me that my voice, with others', is essential to learning, giving, and living to the fullest. She gave us music - and music, I know, gives imagination and possibility."

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Christi Davis Christi Davis

"It is my joy to provide musical experiences for children that encourage them to notice how things are connected, to appreciate all cultures, and take pride in our American heritage, to lose their fear of giving a wrong answer, to contemplate excellence, and to work together to create something beautiful."

Joann Cho Nominated by
Joann Cho

"When I first met Rafe Esquith, it was because I had somehow been admitted into the strange and magical world of Room 56... Rafe yanked the rug out from underneath me, [and took me] on [the] adventure of a lifetime... I learned, lived, and breathed his motto: 'There are no shortcuts.'"

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Rafe Esquith Rafe Esquith

"I might be the world's luckiest teacher. Colleagues, two Presidents, the Queen, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the Dalai Lama have honored my use of The Arts to help students reach extraordinary heights. My proudest accomplishment, however, is that I remain a public school teacher after twenty-eight years."

David Pogue Nominated by
David Pogue

"That simple idea was so profound, it's affected everything I've ever written since: 50 how-to books, 2 novels, and of course thousands of newspaper and magazine columns. [Professor Fry] was right. And he changed my life."

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Paul Fry Paul Fry

"Taught and lectured 39 years at Yale, 12 as Director of Graduate Studies. Started as Director of department's introductory History of Western Literature course. Chair of Yale College's Committee on Teaching and Learning, three years. My lecture course, Introduction to Literary Theory, was filmed and can be viewed at"

Lin-Manuel Miranda Nominated by
 Lin-Manuel Miranda

"I had, in fact, spent most of 8th grade scribbling song lyrics and poems in the back of my classes, earning grades just good enough to get by. I never saw any reason to share these with anyone else. With [his] note, Dr. Herbert essentially called me out."

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Rembert Herbert Rembert Herbert

"My teaching career began in earnest when I joined the English Department of Hunter College High School in New York City in 1991. There I was able to establish an ongoing rapport with the students, based mutual respect and a mutual delight in thoughtful exchanges in the classroom."

Chardonay Brown Nominated by
Chardonay Brown

"Because of Ms. Lambright, I am an even stronger individual than I was before we met. She pushed me to go beyond what I thought to be my best... My childhood fears of being stuck gave me nightmares... She saw my abilities and determination and guided me while I learned to avoid mistakes that detracted from my potential."

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Bridget Lambright Bridget Lambright

"Serving my community as an educator, mentor, facilitator, and author for fourteen years has been amazing. It has never been trouble-free being a challenging teacher, but I remain demanding because I understand my students' obstacles. Their dreams inspire me to go beyond the classroom to prepare them for post-secondary success."

Melanie ChancyNominated by
Melanie Chancy

"Ms. Mann was the first teacher who didn't just tell me to be responsible, she actually provided me the freedom to discover just who I was, and allowed for both my success and failure... That's when it hit me. I am in charge of my destiny; no one else. It was her way of setting the stage for what would play out to be a life-changing encounter."

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 Melanie Mann Melanie Mann

"Starting my teaching career in 1998 as Miami-Dade County Public Schools Rookie Teacher of the Year, exciting; teaching for 13 years in a culturally diverse high school in Miami, challenging; sponsoring FCCLA, FEA and coaching, rewarding; preparing my students for a successful career in education, an honor."

Genein Letford Nominated by
Genein Letford

"This John Denver person was singing about hammering in the morning and the evening? WHAT!? The looks on some of my classmates' faces ranged from disgust to bewilderment to confusion. Mine just reflected discovery... Our teacher, a white man with an eccentric flair, had just opened up a whole new world for me, no longer trapped within the confines of what we were expected to listen to."

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Steven Miller Steven Miller

"I have taught school for 33 years. I taught three years in Rocky Ford, Colorado with grades K-1-2 and one year in Alhambra, California teaching grades 7-8. The last 29 years. I have taught at Levi Bemis Elementary with grades 3-4-5-6. I also have spent 20 years as a music teacher (guitar/banjo)."

David Gonzalez Nominated by
David Gonzalez

"On the outside there was real danger, but in Mr. Porton's English class we were safe and the possibilities were endless... Tom Porton taught the curriculum and far, far more."

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Tom Porton Tom Porton

"Since beginning to teach in 1969, I have tried to educate the hearts as well as the minds of my students. I found that great learning takes place inside and outside the classroom, which I discovered when I began involving students in a variety of cultural and community service activities."

Melissa Machado Nominated by
Melissa Machado
"I was told that I would never attend college, that I would go to public school, get a diploma and stay at home forever, since I am mentally handicapped... [I am now a college graduate who has] had so many wonderful experiences because I had an amazing teacher who never gave up on me and inspired me to do more than I thought I was capable of doing."

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Evelys Ubiera Evelys Ubiera

"I began my teaching career 15 years ago. I taught at my alma mater for 8 years and then pioneered a new program, Project ACCEPT, where I teach today. I took my Intellectually Disabled students to college! Teaching, I feel is an incredible way of life, it is my life."

Deb Fordham Nominated by
Deb Fordham

"Me? A writer? It was laughable. Writers are Ivy League grads, English majors, worldly people with biting wit – not small-town Southern girls who learned what little grammar they knew from watching 'Schoolhouse Rock'. I simply couldn't accept [Jacque Wheeler's] conclusion... It took years, but her belief eventually became my own."

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Jacque Wheeler Jacque Wheeler

"I am a Professor of Theatre at Valdosta State University and serve as the Area Head of the Theatre and Dance programs and Artistic Director of Peach State Summer Theatre, the Official Musical Theatre of the State of Georgia. I am the author of Assignments in Musical Theatre Acting and Directing and Tall Betsy and the Crackerbarrel Tales, a musical play for young audiences. I am a recipient of the Georgia Theatre Conference Leighton Ballew Award for Distinguished Service to Theatre in Georgia."

Mitch Julis Nominated by
Mitch Julis

"He was a very in-your-face kind of teacher, so you had to have a strong personality – or had to develop one - to interact with him. But many of us felt that since he was all giving everything that it was only right for us to do so as well."

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Steve Zawel Steve Zawel

"My career has focused on teaching and directing musical theatre, an ideal subject with which to impart and inspire. Discovering talent and developing it is a challenging experience. Investing time, energy, and emotion in nurturing a student's soul and self esteem is a rewarding journey. I am blessed in my semi-retirement to reconnect with countless students and see how my "instrument" turned out. Now I am the one being inspired!"

See what leaders and celebrities have to say about the impact their favorite teachers had on them and the impact good teachers make on students, schools, and communities. With the following links:


We are pleased to announce a new strategic alliance with the U.S. Department of Education TEACH campaign. TEACH is designed to raise awareness of the teaching profession and inspire a new generation of teachers to join the ones who are already making a difference in the classroom.