Eligibility for the California Teachers of the Year Program is limited to candidates who are successful as finalists in their local county competitions, have been teaching for at least eight years, and meet any of the following criteria:
- Fully credentialed teachers in public or private schools who teach any of pre-kindergarten through grade twelve
- Teachers of adults who provide instruction in the same curriculum as those who teach in elementary or secondary grades
- Instructors who have some administrative responsibilities but for whom teaching students is the primary responsibility
- Teachers who are available to fulfill ambassadorial duties during the year of service
- Teachers who have been in the classroom for more than eight years
Candidates for the California Teachers of the Year Program compete in the state program as nominees of county offices of education (COEs). Most COEs have a Teacher of the Year Coordinator. In many counties, candidates first prevail in local district competitions.
Some districts establish their own processes and applications for selecting exemplary teachers. These teachers, in turn, advance to the county office recognition program. Such programs generate the primary base of applicants at the state level.
Interested applicants should find out if their local district and county have a Teacher of the Year recognition program, and how the two recognition processes coalesce and link to the state program. Candidates from private schools as well as candidates being sponsored by professional organizations should also submit their applications to the COE.
The state selection process begins with candidates whose names are submitted by COEs. Selection consists of three phases:
- Review of the written application
- Site visit to the school and classroom
- Interview with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI) or his designee
To evaluate the application, the California Department of Education (CDE) convenes a selection committee consisting of administrators, representatives from professional organizations, and teachers. Using scoring guidelines aligned with the prompts, committee members identify the applications that best address the prompts and distinguish themselves as stellar. Experienced application evaluators find the following characteristics in the most outstanding applications:
- Puts the reader in the classroom and leaves the reader easily able to visualize the classroom setting and the teacher as the instructional leader, leaving the reader wanting to know more through ample classroom examples, which are provided.
- Conveys depth of content knowledge and how to deliver it creatively and in a differentiated fashion to engage students and influence student learning as reflected in their measurable achievements.
- Reflects the teacher's personal journey and shows the teacher's influence beyond the classroom and into their school community.
- Maintains a student-centered perspective as the applicant weaves in numerous examples of student engagement.
- Inspires through commitment as a lifelong learner who models dedication to continued learning.
- Focuses on building relationships that transform and empower students, parents, and community.
- Reflects the teacher's dedication to the belief that all children can achieve.
Up to 15 applicants, as determined by committee consensus, are scheduled to receive a site visit by a team of teachers. These practitioners observe classroom teaching, including how the applicant adjusts instruction when necessary.
Following the site visits, up to eight (8) applicants advance to the third phase. In this phase, applicants travel to Sacramento where they are interviewed by the SSPI or his designee. In the interview, candidates are evaluated largely for their ability to articulate and to respond to current educational issues as ambassadors for the teaching profession.From this process, five (5) teachers are named by the SSPI as California Teachers of the Year. Applicants selected are those judged best able to meet the demands and challenges that confront the profession on behalf of teachers in the state. One teacher is selected to serve as the state's representative to the National Teacher of the Year Program. All decisions are final.