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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.
Important Notice
Application Due Date extended to 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, September 1, 2020.

Program Information

A component of the California School Recognition Program (CSRP), the California Teachers of the Year (TOY) Program highlights educational innovation, student learning, and the rewards of teaching. 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. Greatness by Design: Supporting Outstanding Teaching to Sustain a Golden State (PDF; 4MB; Updated 17-Sept-2012), is a report from the California Educator Excellence Task Force which provides their recommendations on how to strengthen California's teacher and administrative corps. The California TOY process is part of the teamwork and collaboration in place to meet those recommendations. The experienced teachers selected as California TOYs reflect the diversity of our teachers and students.

The purpose of the California 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. Many of California's TOYs have ultimately become National Teacher of the Year recipients or finalists. Information about the National Teacher of the Year 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.

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 California 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 Teacher of the Year Program.

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

Eligibility Criteria

The California Department of Education (CDE) invites county offices of education (COEs), school districts, charter schools, professional organizations, and private schools statewide to participate in the California Teachers of the Year (TOY) Program for 2021. To be eligible for the California TOY Program, applicants must be fully credentialed teachers currently employed to teach any pre-kindergarten through grade twelve curriculum to children or adults. Applicants must 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.

Applicants must:

  • Have been named as a finalist in their local or county competition.
  • Have completed eight years of teaching at the time of the application submitted at the local level.
  • 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.

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 applicants 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 California TOY Program. All applicants, 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 applicants to the CDE in order to compete at the state level.

Additional information about participation for COEs and districts in support of the California 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.
  • Teaching Video submission.
  • 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 Update: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the California TOY Program will not be traveling to do on-site classroom observations of finalists in the fall. Selected applicants, as determined by committee consensus, will be required to provide a teaching video to move onto the second round of screening. The team will review the Teaching Videos to observe classroom teaching, including how the applicant adjusts instruction when necessary.

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

From this process, teachers are named by the SSPI as California 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.

Application Information

Information shared with California Teachers of the Year County Coordinators at the Zoom Meeting held on June 22, 2020. 2021 California Teachers of the Year Application Training PowerPoint Presentation (PPTX) allowed CDE staff to present an overview of California TOY Program and information about the 2021 Application process. Staff also answered questions that were submitted by attendees during the Zoom Meeting. Additional questions and responses are available on the California TOY County Coordinator Zoom Meeting (PDF) document.


COEs work directly with their selected 2021 California TOY applicants. In order for teachers to be considered in the state's selection process for the 2021 California TOY Award, COEs are required to submit a complete 2021 California TOY Application (PDF) for each 2021 California TOY applicant, by 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, September 1, 2020. Each application received will be reviewed and scored based on the Application Rubrics (DOCX). Complete Applications must be submitted by COEs by electronic uploading or mail.

Complete Applications may be emailed to the Awards Team mailbox at

Complete Applications may also be mailed by COEs on a USB Flash Drive to:

Student Achievement and Support Division
Awards Team - California Teachers of the Year Program
California Department of Education
1430 N Street, Suite 6208
Sacramento, CA 95814-5901

For more information regarding the California TOY Program application process, please contact your California School Recognition Program County Coordinator.

Applicants 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.

Timeline of Activities

Date Activity
July 2020
Participating school districts, charter schools, professional organizations, private schools distribute local applications and organize local Teacher of the Year (TOY) recognition activities.
July - August, 2020
County offices of education (COEs) conduct regional selection and recognition processes for district finalists.
September 1, 2020
2021 California TOY Application Due Date. Deadline for COEs to submit state applications to the California Department of Education (CDE) Awards Team.
September 3-10, 2020
State selection committee reviews applications.
September 11, 2020
COEs are contacted to provide Teaching Videos for selected applicants.
September 20, 2020
Teaching Videos Due Date. Deadline for COEs to submit Teaching Videos for selected applicants to the CDE Awards Team.
September 2020
Teaching Videos are reviewed by a team of professionals.
October 8-9, 2020
Selected applicants are interviewed by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI), or their designee via Zoom Meeting.
October 16, 2020
SSPI makes the final selection and notifies the 2021 California Teachers of the Year.
October 16, 2020
CDE publicly announces the California TOYs for 2021 in a news release.
October 16, 2020
Council of Chief State School Officers is notified of California's nominee for the National TOY Program.


We are thankful for our California School Recognition Program 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.

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

Questions: Awards Team | | 916-319-0842 
Last Reviewed: Friday, August 14, 2020
Recently Posted in Awards and Recognition