An Honor Roll for Teachers: Meet the Org. Celebrating Educators Year-Round

For ‘Honored,’ teacher appreciation week is every day, offering a platform to nominate ‘unsung heroes’

Alexander Blue, February’s Honoree, with a student at Woodmoor Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland. (Courtesy of Honored.org)

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Karen Sonneborn’s late father, a California State professor for more than 30 years, showed her the difference one teacher can make, often recalling how much it meant to him when former students shared his impact on their lives.

This includes a student who writes Sonneborn every year on the anniversary of his death to let her know that her dad, John Hammerback, is the reason she earned a Ph.D.

Sonneborn’s father’s legacy is why she co-founded Honored, a website where students and families nominate teachers for a public tribute.

“Don’t wait … Tell them now how much they changed your life while they’re still there, Sonneborn said, “it can make for such a beautiful cycle.”

Sonneborn and her partner Katherine Boone wanted to create an easy, fun and meaningful way to provide positive feedback to teachers, finding over the years that it “really does make a strong and significant impact.”

Karen Sonneborn, Co-founder & CEO of Honored (Courtesy of Honored.org)

All nominees are added to the site’s “Honor Roll” — and each month since 2017 the organization has picked one to be profiled and the subject of a photoshoot. 

“We really thought about a lot of different models,” said Sonneborn, “and in creating the Honored model we realized it was something that really wasn’t out there already.”

From charter school teachers on the east coast to district school teachers on the west coast and everywhere in between, Honored has celebrated 70 teachers recognizing each monthly honoree with a $5,000 award and $1,000 to donate to another teacher of their choice.

The organization also partners with photographers and a collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning writers and bestselling authors, who profile the honorees in hopes of widely sharing their inspiring stories. 

“During teacher appreciation week you can bring a gift card or something, but there wasn’t an easy way to really express,” said Sonneborn … “that gratitude we as parents have for our wonderful, life changing teachers,”

“There’s a term that’s thrown around for teachers, that they’re ‘unsung heroes’ and I really think that’s accurate,” she said. “ … they’re literally changing the future of our communities and our children but without a lot of attention and appreciation.

The profiles reveal and recognize the ways educators go above and beyond just teaching students curriculum, like Teshawn Leslie, a human resources management teacher at PSJA Sonia M. Sotomayor P-TECH High School in Pharr, Texas, an early college high school for pregnant and parenting teens.

The student who nominated Leslie told Nadra Nittle, an Education Journalist at The 19th News she wanted to give up on her future, but because of Leslie, she now strives to succeed.

“We really try to seek out those unique stories of all different types of teachers,” Sonneborn said.

One story she loves to shine a light on was Jon Anderson, who teaches at a wilderness school in Colorado for teens who have challenges in traditional school settings.

“The student who honored him said that he just had no idea where he’d be in his life without this teacher … he actually said he might not even be alive,” said Sonneborn, discussing the range of heartfelt stories she’s heard over the years.

“Our model is consistent recognition for teachers … so every week is Teacher Appreciation Week at Honored.”

Sonneborn feels her organization’s work has become more important than ever since the pandemic.

“There have been several teachers that mentioned how it’s been tough the last couple of years, but that the recognition has encouraged them to stay in the classroom,” Sonneborn said.

Honored noticed an uptick in nominations during the pandemic. In May of 2020, they published a special edition profiling several teachers called “Teaching in the Age of Coronavirus.”

“The last several years have been probably some of the hardest years that teachers have faced and so the more we can uplift them … the better,” she said, noting that they saw a bump in nominations during COVID, highlighting teachers that went “above and beyond.”

Honored surveyed their nominated teachers and found 90% of their nominees say that they’re more likely to continue teaching for the next five years. 95% feel more inspired in their teaching practice after being nominated; and the vast majority said they are compelled to continue focusing on relationship building after being nominated.

The site shares a statistic from TNTP that teachers who receive recognition plan to keep teaching at their schools for nearly twice as long. However, 71% of teachers say they have not recently received recognition, according to Gallup.

Courtesy of Honored.org

“Teachers aren’t going into the profession for the money. They’re going into the profession to make an impact on the kids,” Sonneborn said, “So to provide this feedback to them that they are making a difference and that they are appreciated is so important.”

Meet 2023’s Honorees and nominate a teacher today:

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