Teachers have faced unique challenges over the past two years—pivoting to remote learning, teaching through a racial justice reckoning, and navigating nationwide political divisiveness. These challenges have exacerbated frustrations for teachers who were already overworked and underpaid, and more teachers now say they’re considering leaving the profession.
But innovation also springs from hardship. This spring, TIME searched the country to identify and recognize the achievements of innovative teachers who are improving their field and making a difference for their students in a unique way. We received hundreds of nominations. While each of the nominees has had immeasurable impact on their students’ lives, TIME editors selected 10 teachers who stood out for going above and beyond to improve learning experiences for kids who need it, and solving problems schools face today.
The 10 finalists have helped students with disabilities get placed in STEM careers, made refugee children feel welcome in the U.S., connected kids around the world on video chat, planted micro-forests to teach ways to fight climate change, and designed video game lessons to teach anti-racism. And they have all demonstrated leadership in their schools and teaching communities.
Joann Blumenfeld, who runs the program for students with disabilities in North Carolina, says she hopes the success of programs like hers can show others in education that investing in students is always worthwhile. “I would like the U.S. Department of Education one day to look at our program and look at other programs like it and start implementing them to really level the playing field,” she says. “Everyone can do what I did. It’s nothing special. It’s just we need people to do it.”
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