Past Illinois Teachers of the Year on What the Award Meant

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January 6, 2021

If one thing has become clear in hearing from the Illinois Teachers of the Year, one can never be truly prepared for the opportunity.

This month, we look back at what some of the past winners have shared with us about the profound effect the title has on them and how they strive to do their best to honor it.


Kimberly Thomas, Woodruff Career & Technical Center

Give me an M … Give me an A ...  Give me a T ... Give me an H … what’s it spell? BEST SUBJECT EVER!!

I am a  49  and  64  grade math teacher at Woodruff Career and Technical Center in Peoria, IL. I have been teaching for 5 x 4 + 3 years.

When anyone walks in my classroom, it is like math is giving them a big hug. The only negative allowed in my class is a negative integer. My room is filled with diverse angles, some are acute and others obtuse. The degree of each angle is irrelevant. 

It is the mathlicious approach I take that makes me who I am as an educator. My students are my inspiration for my mathention getters, mathercises and mathlicious projects so they will be excited about each math discovery. My wish is for all students to live, laugh and love math.

As Illinois Teacher of the Year, I’ve been adding to my mathlicious passion, subtracting any negative hearsay, multiplying by the positive qualities and FUN of learning, and dividing the love and respect I have for the teaching profession … this equals an educational celeMATHbration.


Lindsey Jensen, Dwight Township High School

In so many ways, I believe that I didn’t choose teaching; teaching chose me. This occurred 12 years ago when I decided to take a job as a teacher’s aide in a junior high behavioral disorder classroom.

I fell in love with teaching in an environment that would send most adults running for the hills. Despite the challenging days and difficult experiences, it was in this special classroom where I learned that teachers have the power to change lives.

I have worked in a variety of educational settings in the past 12 years. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to become an 11th and 12th grade English teacher at Dwight Township High School, which is a very special place that I have called “home” for the past nine years.

From an advocacy standpoint, as the 2018 Illinois Teacher of the Year, I take great responsibility in advocating for both teachers and students throughout our great state. I can think of no greater honor than to represent my colleagues and my students in the fight for public education. I believe that education equals empowerment. Therefore, it is our responsibility as educators to fight the elimination of funding from the very place where children learn to feel empowered. Schools are where children experience that America is the land of opportunity.

To my fellow colleagues who are raising their voices in this fight, keep up the good work!


Susan Converse, Edwardsville High School

What I shared that night came directly from my heart. I told the audience that this award belonged to my students, who, despite significant disabilities and challenges, are the real success story. I shared that the parent letter thanking me for helping her son become more independent would be treasured always and was my true award. I thanked all those in the room for their love for the children in our care. I also promised to do my best in 2019 to be a strong voice for all students and teachers in Illinois.

Since that night, I have become more comfortable in my new role as I promised myself that I would use this opportunity to elevate my students with special needs and share their incredible stories, as well as advocate for quality education in Illinois for all students, regardless of their gender, race or ability. I vow to promote teacher voices and welcome the input of those who wish to share their successes and their challenges.

I wish the best for my fellow teachers in 2019. As a teacher, you have the power to positively impact the future of our society. You are the mentors and heroes of future generations. It is an incredible honor to be your voice this year. I hope to serve you well.
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