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The Iowa Teacher of the Year (TOY) Award was established in 1958 and is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education through an appropriation from the Iowa legislature. The award provides an opportunity to recognize an Iowa teacher who motivates, challenges, and inspires excellence; who is respected by students and peers; who is a dedicated professional that helps nurture hidden talents and abilities; who is a creative, caring individual; who takes teaching beyond textbooks and blackboards; and who is an exceptional teacher helping to redefine American education.
The Iowa TOY may serve as the Iowa Ambassador to Education, acting as an education liaison to primary and secondary schools in the state.
2024 Nomination Information
Anyone, including school administrators, colleagues, students, parents, college faculty, and associations, may nominate teachers for the award. Self-nominations and nominations by family members are not accepted. Winners are chosen by a committee that includes representatives of the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa State Education Association, the School Administrators of Iowa, the Parent Teachers Association, the past Iowa TOY, and representatives from higher education institutions.
Nomination Form for the 2024 Iowa Teacher of the Year
2022 Iowa TOY Sara Russell
Sara Russell, a 19-year veteran teacher, is the Iowa Department of Education’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, Gov. Reynolds announced Oct. 15, 2021 at Pleasant Valley High School in eastern Iowa.
“I am proud of the amazing work Sara Russell is doing to make a difference in the lives of her students and the impact she is having on the education system in our state,” said Governor Reynolds. “Outstanding educators like Sara ensure our students are well prepared for careers and education beyond high school. Every day, she brings a positive and engaging approach to her students while helping them develop critical-thinking and team-building skills, which they'll take with them far beyond the classroom throughout their lives.”
“The Teacher of the Year award honors outstanding teachers who have made an impact on their students and colleagues,” Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo said. “Sara is a teacher leader, mentor to first-year teachers and an advocate of collaborative learning environments. Her leadership and passion will help Iowa’s education system grow and expand opportunities for students.”
See photos of Sara in the classroom and from the 2022 Iowa Teacher of the Year announcement ceremony.
View a video of Sara to get to know her better.
Russell, 43, is a social studies teacher who leads student-centered, hands-on learning.
“I believe in the idea that you will never truly understand a concept or idea until you can apply it to your own life or the world around you,” she said. “While direct instruction is a necessary component of learning, I structure as much of my class time as possible around student activities that demand students to make their own meaning of concepts or ideas, usually in a cooperative environment. With all of the activities, I strive to have students discuss, defend, explain and apply their learning.”
Russell, her husband Ian, and their 13-year-old twin sons, Gavin and Aiden, live in Bettendorf.
If Sara could support your efforts in teaching and learning or recruitment and retention in some way, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2022 Iowa TOY Finalists
- Dawn Arnold, a mathematics teacher from Benton Community High School, Van Horne.
- Kelli Kovarik, language arts teacher at North Fayette Valley High School, West Union.
- Elaine Menke, an instrumental music teacher at Lakewood Elementary, Norwalk.
- Staci Mercado, an English teacher at Central DeWitt High School, DeWitt.
Past TOY Recipients
**One of four contenders for National Teacher of the Year
*National Teacher of the Year
|Year||Name||Grade and/or Content Area||School||City|
|2022||Sara Russell||Social Studies||Pleasant Valley High School||Bettendorf|
|2021||No winner chosen|
|2020||George Anderson||Social Studies||Kennedy High School||Cedar Rapids|
|2019||Christopher Burke||Mathematics||Eleanor Roosevelt Middle School||Dubuque|
|2018||Aileen Sullivan||Chemistry||Ames High School||Ames|
|2017||Shelly Vroegh||Instructional Coach and 5th Grade||Lakewood Elementary School||Norwalk|
|2016||Scott Slechta||English Language Arts||Fairfield High School||Fairfield|
|2015||Elizabeth Clemencia Bulthuis||Spanish||Merrill Middle School||Des Moines|
|2014||Jane Schmidt||8th Grade Literacy and Language Arts||Maquoketa Middle School||Maquoketa|
|2013||Tania Johnson||Kindergarten||Jackson Elementary School||Cedar Rapids|
|2012||Charity Campbell||Physical Education||Norwalk Middle School||Norwalk|
|2011||Molly Boyle||3rd Grade||Brookview Elementary School||West Des Moines (Waukee CSD)|
|*||2010||Sarah Brown Wessling||High School English||Johnston High School||Johnston|
|2009||Linda Heffner||4th Grade||Everette Elementary School||Sioux City|
|2008||Andy Mogle||Family and Consumer Science||Norwalk High School||Norwalk|
|2007||Jan Keese||3rd Grade||Crocker Elementary School||Ankeny|
|2006||Jacqueline Warnstadt||4th Grade||Leeds Elementary School||Sioux City|
|2005||Vicki Lynn Goldsmith||English, Women's Studies, Theories of Knowledge||Roosevelt High School||Des Moines|
|2004||Ernest Lee Schiller||Biology||Central Lee High School||Donnellson|
|2003||Diana Buter||Reading and Language Arts||Grinnell Middle School||Grinnell|
|2002||Jennifer L. Erbe||3rd Grade||Starry Elementary School||Marion|
|2001||Gail B. Wortmann||Anatomy and Physiology & Advanced Anatomy||Ottumwa High School||Ottumwa|
|2000||Thomas H. Paulsen||Agriculture Education||Carroll Community High School||Carroll|
|1999||Maureen Hoffmann||English||A-H-S-T Middle School||Shelby|
|**||1998||Ruth Ann Gaines||Drama||East High School||Des Moines|
|**||1997||Jan Mitchell||English||Marshalltown High School||Marshalltown|
|1996||Jill Olsen-Virlee||French||Marion High School||Marion|
|1995||Jerry Pierce||English||Roland-Story Middle School||Roland|
|1994||Keith Robinson||Social Studies||Maple Valley High School||Mapleton|
|1993||Joan McShane||Science||Jefferson Elementary School||Davenport|
|1992||Nancy Mounts||Family and Consumer Science||North High School||Sioux City|
|1991||David Arthur Hunt||Social Studies||Clarence-Lowden High School||Clarence|
|1990||Pamela Adams Johnson||6th Grade||Carpenter Elementary School||Monticello|
|1989||Anna Mary Mueller||English as a Second Language||West High School||Iowa City|
|1988||Pat Roush||7th - 8th Grade English and Speech||Neal McGowan Junior High School||Knoxville|
|1987||Richard E. Peters||High School Social Studies||Mount Vernon High School||Mount Vernon|
|1986||Linda Pershall Calvin||10th - 12th Grade Social Studies||Urbandale High School||Urbandale|
|1985||Margo J. Chesebro||11th - 12th Grade Language Arts||East High School||Sioux City|
|1984||Sharon June Lee||3rd Grade||Douglas Elementary School||Des Moines|
|**||1983||Gene Ulrich||Biology Teacher & Science Department Head||North High School||Sioux City|
|**||1982||Darlene Frazier||Art Teacher & Department Head||Boone Community Schools||Boone|
|1981||Dan Gogerty||Language Arts||South East Junior High School||Iowa City|
|1980||Howard L. Carter||Multi-occupations Program||Central Lee High School||Argyle|
|1979||Richard A. Wilson||Elementary Physical Education||Centerville Community Schools||Centerville|
|1978||Helen Finken||Social Studies||South East Junior High School||Iowa City|
|1977||Shirley Jean Fouts||Social Studies||South East Junior High School||Iowa City|
|1976||Betty Burres-Youngs||Remedial Reading||Washington Irving Junior High School||Des Moines|
|1975||Alice Elizabeth Piercy||Reading||Iowa City Community Schools||Iowa City|
|1974||Genevieve Treichler Wallace||Woodlawn Elementary School||Des Moines|
|1973||Goldie Michalek||Elementary||Mason City Community Schools||Mason City|
|1972||Jean Bogardus||Elementary||Clear Creek Community Schools||Tiffin|
|1971||John D. Beghtol||History||Centerville High School||Centerville|
|1970||Beulah Anderson||West Elementary School||Emmetsburg|
|1969||Jane Sharp||Kirkwood Elementary School||Des Moines|
|1968||James Lokett||Keokuk Community Schools||Keokuk|
|1965||Betty Jean Hyde||Callanan Junior High School||Des Moines|
|1964||William V. Houser||Science||Roosevelt High School||Des Moines|
|*||1958||Jean Listebarger Humphrey||Elementary||Ames Community Schools||Ames|