Recognizing outstanding educators and schools

by joe nathan 

guest columnist


“We have halls of fame for athletes and entertainers and should afford the same degree of recognition to our star educators and through that channel of the education profession … this is an excellent idea.” That’s how Arthur Dorman, a Minnesota educator, responded to a recent column praising Oklahoma’s Educator Hall of Fame. Most but not all of the approximately 20 people who commented agreed.

“Phil” disagreed. He wrote, in part: “It seems to me that the whole idea of having a ‘hall of fame’ for educators shows the real problem with how the U.S. regards teachers. Instead of teaching being a normal highly regarded and highly paid profession where excellence is assumed, we have a medium-regarded and low-paid profession that we believe need psychological boosts like halls of fame.”

But Minnesota’s current state teacher of the year, Megan Olivia Hall, wrote: “This is a wonderful idea. As Minnesota Teacher of the Year, I’ve received a lot of positive recognition – and am struck by how rarely educators experience positive recognition of any kind. There are hosts of outstanding educators in Minnesota. We could fill an educators hall of fame in every county.”

It turns out that New Hampshire also has a statewide educators hall of fame. Roberta E.C. Tenney, administrator of New Hampshire’s Office of School Standards, told me that New Hampshire honors outstanding educators and individual schools. Its Education in Excellence Awards program is described online at

Tenney explained: “For years, exemplary New Hampshire educators were recognized, but there was no event that brought everyone together under one roof. That all changed in 1992 when a group of like-minded ‘movers and shakers’ met in the Merrimack Valley High School library to plan an awards ceremony to rival the Academy Awards. Jane, Peggy and Fred were there that first day; 20 years later, they are still giving their time and talents to the ‘ED’ies.”

New Hampshire’s program is paid for by McDonald’s restaurants and several other organizations. There’s a brief, uplifting video about this effort at

John Merrow, a national journalist who has won many awards for his coverage of education, wrote that a statewide hall recognizing teachers is a “wonderful idea.” He recalled that many years ago he suggested creating “teacher cards, the equivalent of baseball cards.” He and a colleague actually created some, including educators such as Anne Sullivan, the woman who taught Helen Keller.

Several people pointed out that most states have annual “Teacher of the Year” programs. And Kansas hosts a national teachers hall of fame. But I really like what Oklahoma and New Hampshire have done: They honor teachers and administrators in a permanent location.

Of course, an educators hall of fame would not solve all of our problems in education. But think about what it would be like to walk down a hallway in one of Minnesota’s largest malls, with pictures and plaques describing some of the things that outstanding teachers and principals, as well as outstanding schools, have accomplished.

I think it would encourage some young people to consider going into teaching. It would give appropriate, ongoing recognition to outstanding educators. A statewide hall would, as Tenney wrote, “support the hard but quiet work that continues day in and day out.”


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, principal and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, [email protected]