A Journey through the Teacher of the Year Awards

Nov 17, 2021

Kari Johnson thought it was crazy they chose her. She still thinks it’s crazy—that she was recognized.

In fact, she was also surprised this past winter, when she was selected as the 2021 Sarasota County Ignite Education Teacher of the Year.

Kari is in fact incredibly deserving, an amazing educator, and she was the recipient. She was Sarasota County’s Teacher of the Year. And soon after, she was busier than normal. She had two weeks to complete an extensive application for the statewide Teacher of the Year program. She wrote five essays, taught lessons while being videoed, filmed a professional reflection video with the Education Channel, updated her resume, jumped on countless Zoom calls, tracked down support letters, submitted it all—and then waited.

Since 1967, Florida has recognized a remarkable, innovative, compassionate teacher through its Teacher of the Year program. Each year, five teachers recognized by their own county as Teacher of the Year converge in Orlando to celebrate all things teaching and the important work of extraordinary educators.

Kari never thought that would be her. She just loves teaching her kindergartners at Fruitville Elementary School as she has for 15 years. She doesn’t feel as if she is any different than her peers, with whom she loves to collaborate. In fact, a few months after submitting her application packet, she misread an announcement of last year’s recipient and assumed the decision had already passed, that the Florida Teacher of the Year had been awarded.

But then one day her classroom was unexpectedly full of adults—the superintendent, her principal, officials from Tallahassee, others. She had been chosen.

After that, Kari spent much time in hotels, first in Tallahassee, for a week in May, where she conducted countless interviews and met officials in the Florida Department of Education and learned so many ins and outs of the education system. She felt humbled and in awe—and again wondered what she’d done to deserve this.

Then it was July, and Kari was in another hotel, this time in Orlando, for four days of celebration and professional development leading up to the announcement ceremony. It was an amazing time. She attended panels, met leaders in the field, and engaged with the other finalists, forming a tremendous bond with her fellow educators that flourishes today.

In Orlando, though, Kari also dreamed she wouldn’t receive the Florida Teacher of the Year Award. And on July 22, her dream came true. Her new friend Sarah Ann Painter was the recipient, and Kari was overjoyed. She’d been on an inspiring journey during a challenging year unlike any other—and she still couldn’t believe that she’d been selected as a finalist at all.

Kari’s journey continues today as she is now part of the Florida Teacher Lead Network. She loves the opportunity to mentor new teachers and values the newfound confidence the experience has instilled in her. She values the new friends she has met and the chance to exchange ideas with so many educators—and to represent Sarasota County teachers, who showed so much courage, creativity, and compassion during the pandemic.

Today Kari is on the other end of the Teacher of the Year selection process, and she is now even more surprised and honored to have received the distinction. It still seems crazy.

Kari is excited to participate in this year’s Ignite Education Teacher of the Year Celebration and so happy for the three finalists. Her advice for this year’s Sarasota County Teacher of the Year: “Just be you. Be proud of the work you do—and keep an open mind. A lot happens.”

On December 9, we will announce the recipient of the Sarasota County Ignite Education Teacher of the Year Award. Congratulations to this year’s finalists: Shannon Haddad, Jennifer H. Jaso, and Loridia Urquiza!

Tickets are available to celebrate these remarkable educators and all the other great teachers across our county. Purchase your ticket today!