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The Kennedy Center

The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards

2016 Awardees

Michael Bechtel

"Teaching chose me. My daily desire for my students, and myself, is to cooperatively participate in four things: learn something intriguing, build self-efficacy, achieve a goal, and have fun. The rest is details. Teaching allows me to intertwine my loves for science, students, and servant leadership into a lifelong profession."

Nominated by Caitlin Miller

"Often, we forget that learning sometimes means struggling. Through struggle, we grow... Dr. Bechtel saw my struggle, my shaken confidence, and helped me to regain that confidence. More importantly though, he made me fall in love with learning again. "


Cazzie Brown

"To me, teaching is not my job; it is my calling. It's kind of crazy that I became a teacher because I was not a good student. Well, I was not a good student until one day, the most influential person in my life showed me he believed in me and taught me how to believe in myself. It is important to me to give young kids a purpose."

Nominated by Elisabeth Hindert

"At the age of 15 the word "different" was something I never wanted to be. Despite detecting my "differences" at a very young age, I decided to try to deny that part of myself existed in order to fit in... [Coach Brown] helped me recognize my differences not as flaws, but rather my most precious and unique pieces that make me special."


Christine Flanagan

"Growing up I had some extraordinary teachers and adults in my life who gave me the courage to take risks, face tough challenges, and taught me that even mistakes can be opportunities for growth if we learn from them. I wanted to impact children the way so many of them impacted me so I chose to teach."

Nominated by Nora Sandoval

"For the first time, I felt like I mattered being in someone's class. I was really suffering with low self-confidence due to my struggles, and though I was improving, I was still far below my peers. I had a high goal ahead of me, and little faith that I would actually accomplish it."


Amy Insley

"My students are the reason I teach. I teach because I have been given the precious gift of spending my days with them. I look at them as undiscovered potential waiting to be released into the world. I am blessed and excited daily to play a part."

Nominated by Justin Rivera

"Amy Insley is not only an exceptional educator, but a great mentor, and friend. Without her, I am not sure I would have made it, and I know that I wouldn't be lucky enough to have a career in entertainment."


Pamela Izvanariu

"I teach to transform, and be transformed, by the process of sharing in the intellectual and personal growth of my students. I know firsthand that one committed educator can help plant seeds of empowerment and self-actualization that help a student reach beyond their dreams. And really, how beautiful is that?"

Nominated by Erick Samayoa

"This was the moment in which I decided to truly challenge myself and go out there and see what I could actually do... I was able to completely change the trajectory of my family."


Ramona Mahood

"The desire to learn is the greatest gift that a teacher can give her students. This was always my ultimate aim. I am proud that now, my student, Alice Faye, is sharing this precious gift with others."

Nominated by Alice Faye Duncan

"Like Ezekiel in the valley, she prophesied to my dry bones of self-doubt and professional uncertainty. Ramona Mahood called me, 'gifted'."


David Moellenkamp

"When I didn't make the basketball team, I thought my life was over. The choir teacher saw me sitting alone at lunch and said that he had a part in the musical for me to play. This opportunity transformed me from a shy kid to a confident person. I knew that I had no other option than becoming a teacher myself, so I could provide similar opportunities for kids."

Nominated by Ryan Rusin

"I never believed that I could actually change someone's entire life in the span of a simple two-hour spectacle. But it wasn't until he changed my life in just two-seconds, that I truly realized what was possible. "


Nelson Monteith

"Going to school in northern Maine in the 50's and 60's did not exactly fill me with inspiration about a career in law or in medicine. I was the first in my extended family to even consider college, but did not have a lot of money. I had studied piano from third grade, and played French Horn in the band once I reached high school. I adored my band and chorus teacher, Mr. Matthews. Because of my interest in music, and apparent talent for it, I decided to apply to music schools, hoping someday to be like Mr Matthews."

Judith Pancoast

"At school I was the object of teasing, but I enjoyed being in the chorus, where I sat in the back, trying not to bring attention to myself. At lunchtime the cafeteria was unbearable. I discovered that the music room was empty and unlocked during that period, and from that point on I brought music books to school and snuck in there to play and sing..."


Ferial Pearson

"Teaching is a unique privilege that allows me to move alongside my students as change agents in all our communities. Their courage, creativity, hearts, and minds inspire me and teach me to continue when all seems lost. Being a teacher gives me faith in humanity and hope for the future."

Nominated by Ischel Gonzalez Kelso

"Ferial went against many higher-ups and put herself in difficult situations - all for her students. Despite those obstacles, she continued to fight for her students to have what they needed to survive in the classroom, at home, and in life."


Cristina Pla-Guzman

"An all-consuming passion for the arts and complete joy when witnessing students' growth as artists and people is what has drawn me to teaching theatre. It is with great honor and pleasure that I get to say, "I am a teacher." I strive to never stop learning and creating."

Nominated by Elexa Suarez

"High School can be a very frightening experience, especially if you come in with no friends, which was my case. I had no idea what to do, who to talk to, or where to go once the school bell rang. One day, I accidentally walked into our cafeteria while I was looking for the office and thank God I did..."


John Reid

"Becoming a short order cook after high school taught me that this was not what God had planned for my life but I continued in order to earn money for college. Band and Choir were always my favorite subjects and they were taught by my Dad. He inspired me to pass on the love and joy of music through teaching"

Nominated by Brenda Clark

"Reid entered our second grade classroom pushing a monstrous upright piano that made every board in the floor creak and groan. From that point forward, I was mesmerized as he led me/us on a journey into the magical world of music."


Marta Reid-Stewart

"Integrity...passion... a love for learning... and a commitment to making a difference in the lives of students-- landed me a life in the classroom. The subject matter primarily exists as a means by which to empower students with some key essentials: skills and knowledge, a desire and confidence --to discover their chosen path for their own life's journey.
I am home at school."

Nominated by Dan Driscoll

"For a kid who had struggled with learning disabilities, speech impediments and illiteracy through the age of nine, this was a strange question... Did this mean I was actually good at something other than sports?"


Teren Shaffer

"Pursuing a career in arts education has long been my desire. I was fortunate to learn from inspiring teachers who instilled in me a lifelong appreciation for the arts. My life’s work is about giving back to the next generation of aspiring artist-scholars, and providing my students with a platform for growth and success in their desired career path."

Nominated by Julia Choi

"In my four years under his tutelage, I learned that the word passion for Mr. Shaffer doesn't mean 'feeling' the music. It means maintaining a whole-hearted attitude towards everything you do."


Davey Yarborough

"I teach because I appreciate my God, my family, my teachers, and mentors who went and still go beyond the call of duty. Inspiring me to dream, to learn, to produce, and to inspire the next generations to do the same all while enjoying the power of love and knowledge."

Nominated by Ede Ashton-Scott

"I felt empowered and motivated. I hadn't [ever] been told 'yes' when I wanted to do something that I wanted to do."


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: