Visionary Teacher Awards Celebrate 3 Lessons from the Classroom

An AP® Biology teacher in Georgia, a career resource teacher in Florida, and an ESL teacher in New Jersey have one thing in common: They’re empowering students to discover a promising future for themselves.

In classrooms around the country, teachers are finding intentional ways to address their students’ questions about the future. In a year where teacher shortages continue to dominate the headlines, we celebrate the creativity of these individuals.

During National Teacher Appreciation Week, the first-ever BigFuture® Visionary Teacher Award called attention to the critical role of teachers in helping students plan for college and a career. Three standout stories arose from self-nominations and peer and student nominations.

BigFuture 2024 Visionary Teacher Award Winners

Here are lessons on college and career planning from our three $1,000 winners:

  1. Planning for the future doesn’t have to be an elective. 
    As an AP Biology teacher at Glenn Hills High School, Ms. LuTongel Few recognized that science lessons are grounded in exploration and problem-solving. That isn’t so different from the skills required to create a plan after high school. By emphasizing the practical applications of scientific knowledge in everyday life and different professions, Ms. Few ignites her students' curiosity in what comes next. Using BigFuture, students engage in immersive activities to discover more about careers in science on Career Search, such as interviews with science professionals and visits to local labs. She then leads them through BigFuture to identify college options as well as financial aid tailored to their career interests.
  2. Exploration can and should start earlier. 
    The nominations from students noted their teacher’s ability to help them articulate a sharp vision for their future academic path. Ms. Mallory Melady is a Career Research teacher at Stanton College Preparatory who created a course for first-year students that would encourage them to start thinking about college and a career. She said that when students use BigFuture resources and tools, “the best conversations come when they discover what a college requires [on College Search]. They can start to explore options early, connect that to their PSAT-related assessment scores, and see all the colleges that are on track. That’s an aha moment.”
  3. Peer-to-peer connections are impactful.
    Although teachers can help guide students, we shouldn’t overlook student peers as an expert voice. They can offer meaningful insights. In an ESL classroom in Union City High School, Ms. Jessica Sanchez invites seniors who took her class to talk to her 10th graders about college, career, and financial planning they learned about on BigFuture. She reflects on the impact for students when they hear from a student like them and realize "that college can be attainable. When scheduling for next year's classes, they have a better insight into what types of classes they can take at the high school level that may pertain to their future career.”

So many of us can still name a teacher who had a positive impact on our future. With BigFuture, more teachers can ensure every student has the resources and guidance they need to take the right step after high school.

“The award is a celebration of teachers and their community. Just like teachers are investing in their students' futures, we hope we can provide support for the work teachers do,” said Tarlin Ray, senior vice president, BigFuture. “I’m inspired by teachers nationwide who are encouraging learners and leaders in their classrooms to own their future.”