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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.

2012 Awardees

Chris Bundy Chris Bundy "Observing me conducting a high school workshop while in college, my performing arts mentor offered the following advice... 'You may be a terrific actor, but working with kids is where you'll find your heart.' How true. Having chosen that path, quite simply, my 'kids' are the breath to my soul."

Michael Chandler Nominated byMichael Chandler "I don't remember exactly what happened next, but I know that it ended with my eyes closed, singing. No twitching, no random gesticulations. When I opened my eyes, he was standing with the biggest grin on his face and he said, 'See? On stage you’re safe. You get to be whatever Michael you want to be.'" Read More

Vincent Catano Vincent Catano "Simply put, teaching is what I do. Getting up in the morning and mentoring young people invigorates me on a daily basis. My hope is that my students receive as much as they give me."

Mark Smith Nominated byMark Smith "I NEVER laughed in an English Literature class, but I still laugh to this day knowing Mr. Catano, with one book, was the turning point in my learning and my life." Read More

Christopher Collins Christopher Collins "It's an honor to teach, to witness daily that students have hearts, minds, and souls, that they're full of potential and passion. It's my privilege to provide them with amazing experiences, to challenge them and to help them grow. To affect lives in positive ways is the ultimate joy."

Kevin Bailey Nominated byKevin Bailey "He was talking about more than teaching, he was talking about life. Life isn’t about how much money you can make or where you work or anything like that. Life is about how you can change lives and help as many people to be the best they can be." Read More

Amy Gibson Amy Gibson "Every day, I dialogue in class with my students about the literature I love. Books, stories, and essays I have read dozens of times become fresh in mutual discovery. Every weekend, I connect with students' minds through their written words. Both conversations, spoken and written, are exciting, dynamic, and personally demanding. I love my job, and my purpose as a teacher is to change the world."

Allie Bolen Nominated byAllie Bolen "I was the first out of my seat and prepared to rush out the door, but Ms. Gibson stopped me. I prepared myself for a lecture about interfering in another person's business, but instead she thanked me. It was the words she said then that have stayed with me even to this day..." Read More

Richard Golenko Richard Golenko "I decided to enter the teaching profession primarily because of an incredible chemistry teacher in high school, who not only inspired me to reach my potential as a student, but also helped me realize the positive influence that a caring teacher could have in the classroom and beyond."

Darleen Totten Nominated byDarleen Totten "I had the usual struggles in school. I didn't get picked on too much, but enough. Things went from bad to worse when my father died and my mother decided I needed to move out. My life was spiraling downward and just waking up in the morning was painful." Read More

Riffat Hassan Riffat Hassan "As a girl growing up in Pakistan's patriarchal society, I learnt at the feet of my mother who had little access to formal education, that acquiring and disseminating knowledge was a great privilege. Teaching is my calling; I love participating in the enrichment and broadening of students' minds and sensibilities."

Yasser Hayat Nominated byYasser Hayat "The first words that Dr. Hassan said were, 'How many of you believe that according to the Quran men are considered superior to women?' Nearly the entire class (including me) raised their hands. Dr. Hassan smiled and said, 'Well this is going to be a very interesting semester for you all…'" Read More

Dr. John Long Dr. John Long "All I ever wanted to do was to teach music. I would rather teach than eat when I was hungry. I have tried to reach students of all abilities through great works of music and to make an impression on them that would last for the rest of their lives."

Peter Howard Nominated byPeter Howard "He looked over and noticed me sitting there. The rehearsal stopped immediately, and I really don't recall much after that. What I do remember vividly, however, was the entire room spinning around me. I was being told in no uncertain terms that if I wanted to be a member of his band, I would get my instrument and sit down in the trumpet section where I belonged." Read More

Donna Porter Donna Porter "I believe that every individual is designed for greatness. I believe that I was designed to bring to light the greatness that lies within others. I believe that the road to success is paved through empowering the human spirit. I became a teacher to unlock that greatness into the world."

Dewayne Batiste Nominated byDewayne Batiste "I had a plan for this teacher. I'd make a grand entrance, get sent to the office, and keep my reputation as 'big and bad'. I'd be at graduation all right…in the stands, watching my homeboys walk across the stage." Read More

Nicole Waicunas Nicole Waicunas "There is a huge difference between pushing and inspiring beautiful, young minds. If pushed, children quickly reach their limits but if inspired, in a safe environment, told they rock, that they have unlimited potential, they begin to push themselves. There is nothing that kids can't do."

Melissa Bordonaro Nominated byMelissa Bordonaro "Before Ms. Waz, my outlook on academics, life in general, where it was headed, and my overall attitude were not a concern let alone something worth planning for in my eyes. I learned early on in life, throughout personal and family struggles, to cease caring long before anything could impact or hurt me." Read More

Roderick Zano Roderick Zano "I teach social studies to challenge my students to make connections; not only between the past and the present but between what they're learning in class to the experiences of their lives. I want students to seek knowledge, discover the world, and more importantly understand the lessons of life!"

Aaron Novy Nominated byAaron Novy "He was always willing to deliberate and discuss such topics and acknowledged that he was thrilled to know a connection between the courtroom and classroom was made. Before I knew it, my interest turned into passion." Read More

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: