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California Teachers of the Year

Recognizes exemplary teachers who best represent all of California’s teachers and symbolize the profession’s contributions to quality education.

Program Information

A component of the California Department of Education (CDE) California School Recognition Program (CSRP), the California Teachers of the Year (CA TOY) Program highlights educational innovation, student learning, and the rewards of teaching. The purpose of the CA TOY Program is to honor the teaching profession and to heighten interest in teaching as a career. The program affords the opportunity to bring attention to teachers who successfully employ strategies to increase academic success and narrow the achievement gap among a range of students. Further, the program attracts public attention to the positive aspects of our educational system. Teacher quality and recruitment as well as retention ranks high on every educational agenda in the state.

In 1972, California began recognizing outstanding teachers to provide an opportunity for fostering educator excellence. The experienced teachers selected as CA TOYs reflect the diversity of our teachers and students.

The program's goals are to:

  • Identify and honor exemplary and highly qualified teachers throughout California within a structure of local, regional, and statewide recognition activities.
  • Make the application process accessible to all teachers in the state.
  • Encourage the participation of teachers in local and county selection processes who reflect the rich diversity of their students.
  • Increase the participation of small or underrepresented counties.
  • Select articulate teachers to serve as CA TOYs who will effectively represent the state's teachers; motivate and inspire other educators; and champion the positive contributions of the teaching profession.
  • Identify one teacher to compete in the National TOY Program.

Information about CA TOY duties and responsibilities can be found on the CDE California TOY Duties web page.

In addition, each year one of the CA TOY Awardees is selected to compete in the National TOY Program. Many of the CA TOY Awardees have ultimately become National TOY recipients or finalists. Information about the National TOY Program can be found on the Council of Chief State School Officers National Teacher of the Year Program External link opens in new window or tab. website.

Eligibility Criteria

The CDE invites county offices of education (COEs), school districts, charter schools, professional organizations, and private schools statewide to participate in the CA TOY Program. To be eligible for the CA TOY Program, candidates must:

  • Be fully credentialed teachers currently employed to teach any pre-kindergarten through grade twelve curriculum to children or adults.
  • Have completed eight years of teaching at the time of the application submitted at the local level.
  • Be employed full-time, or as long-term substitutes in public or private schools. Applicants may be assigned some administrative duties if teaching is the primary responsibility.
  • Have demonstrated leadership and innovation in and outside of the classroom walls that embodies lifelong learning.
  • Have expressed themselves in an engaging and articulate way.
  • Be available to fulfill ambassadorial duties during the year of service and be supported by their employer.
  • Have been named as a finalist in their local or county competition.

Selection Process

County and District Level

All COEs and districts should celebrate and recognize outstanding teachers. Some districts establish their own processes and applications for selecting exemplary teachers who then advance to the county recognition program. Interested candidates should contact their district and COE to learn about local and county recognition programs. COEs will also have information about the way they nominate teachers for the CA TOY Program. All candidates, including those from private schools and those being sponsored by professional organizations, must submit their applications through their COE. The COE then advances their county's selected candidates to the CDE in order to compete at the state level.

Additional information about participation for COEs and districts in support of the CA TOY Program can be found on the CDE California TOY County and District Participation web page.

State Level

The state selection process consists of the applications that were submitted by COEs. The selection takes place in the following phases:

  • Review of the applications.
  • On-site Classroom Visit
  • Interview with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI), or their designee.

To evaluate the applications, the CDE convenes a selection committee consisting of administrators, representatives from professional organizations, and teachers. Committee members identify the applications that best address characteristics of excellent teaching.

On-site Classroom Visit: The CA TOY Program travels to perform on-site classroom observations of finalists in the fall. Additional information regarding this portion of the CA TOY Application process is provided as it is available.

From the On-site Classroom Visit, selected candidates advance to the final phase where they are interviewed by the SSPI, or their designee. In the interview, candidates are evaluated for their ability to discuss current educational issues, which will be part of their role as ambassadors for the teaching profession.

From the Interview, teachers are named by the SSPI as CA TOYs to represent the teaching profession throughout the state. Of these teachers, one is selected to serve as the state's representative to the National Teacher of the Year Program. All decisions are final.


County offices of education (COE) that would like to submit a nominee for the 2025 CA TOY Award must submit a completed 2025 CA TOY Application (Online Survey), by Thursday, July 18, 2024. COEs must work with their TOY County Coordinator to submit Applications.

Applications will only be accepted from TOY County Coordinators.

COEs must work directly with their selected 2025 CA TOY candidates.

IMPORTANT! The CA TOY Application contains a Documentation component that must be completed and uploaded into the Application. It is recommended that you collect information and complete the Documentation component prior to beginning the Application. Instructions for completing the Documentation component for the CA TOY Application can be found on the CDE CA TOY Application Documentation Instructions web page.

For more information regarding the CA TOY Application process, please contact your California Teacher of the Year Program County Coordinator.

Candidates are encouraged to complete their application in a manner in which the content:

  • Puts the reader in the classroom and allows the reader to easily visualize the classroom setting and the teacher as the instructional leader, leaving the reader wanting to know more through providing ample classroom examples.
  • 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 their 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.

Note: CA TOY Awardees may be recorded and photographed. Video and photographs may be used on the CDE's website, social media, and other publications such as Facebook.

Timeline of Activities

Date Activity
February/March 2024 2025 CA TOY Application announcement and posting.
July 18, 2024 2025 CA TOY Application due date.
October 2024 2025 CA TOYs and 2024 National TOY nominee announced.
January/February 2025 2025 CA TOY Gala.


We are thankful for our California Teachers of the Year Sponsors who help to make the California Teachers of the Year Program a success! The CSRP would not be successful without the generous support they provide. We appreciate their willingness to support our efforts to recognize California's exemplary schools, teachers, and classified school employees, for achievement and for advancing excellence in education.


California School Recognition Program County Coordinators
Contact information for California School Recognition Program county office of education coordinators.

California Teachers of the Year Awardees
California Teachers of the Year Awardees by year.

California Teachers of the Year Awardees Comments
California Teachers of the Year Awardees share comments and personal reflections about the California Teachers of the Year Program.

California Teachers of the Year County and District Participation
Participation information for county offices of education and districts in support of the California Teachers of the Year Program.

California Teachers of the Year Duties
California Teachers of the Year duties and responsibilities.

Questions: Awards Unit | | 916-319-0842 
Last Reviewed: Tuesday, March 19, 2024
Recently Posted in Awards and Recognition