Teacher of the year or union member of the year?

Every year, a Minnesota educator is named the state’s Teacher of the Year. Organized and underwritten by Education Minnesota, the Minnesota Teacher of the Year program “has recognized excellence in teaching in Minnesota for 57 years,” according to the teacher union’s website.

But since the program’s inception in 1964, the award has not been bestowed on a single educator from a non-public school.*

*Note: School information for Ray Olson, the 1977 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, could not be found.


Pre-kindergarten through 12th grade teachers, early childhood teachers, and adult basic education teachers from public or private schools are eligible for the award. They must have a bachelor’s degree, a license to teach in Minnesota, at least five years of teaching experience, and plan to continue teaching.

Union membership is not a listed requirement to be eligible for the award, but a nominated teacher shared with American Experiment that she was “informed [by the local union] I was not considered for teacher of the year because I opted out of the union and it is a union run event.”

The union runs the program

U.S. states, territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense annually select a State Teacher of the Year. And while most state teacher of the year programs are run through the state’s department of education, “Minnesota is the only state in which the union runs the program,” according to Education Minnesota. “[T]he union handles only the business of running the program, not the selection process.”

Selection process

Eleven finalists for the 2022 Minnesota Teacher of the Year award have been announced and were selected by a group of panelists “representing Minnesota leaders in education, business, nonprofits and government,” according to Education Minnesota. It is not clear how panelists are selected and who selects them.

Colleagues, students, parents, or anyone else may nominate a teacher for the award. The nominee must then choose to become a candidate and submit an entry portfolio, which includes his/her teaching philosophy, professional accomplishments and letters of recommendation. Education Minnesota reports that 134 educators submitted portfolios for the 2022 award. It is not known if any of the nominees from this year or in years past have been from non-public learning environments.


Read here how the 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year lost his job to a seniority-based layoff policy supported by the teachers’ union. The 2012 Minnesota Teacher of the Year incorporated critical race theory into sophomore English classes in the Edina school district.