TDOE Announces 2023-24 Tennessee Teacher of the Year Finalists

Thursday, June 08, 2023 | 10:00am


Nine Finalists Advance for Statewide Recognition

Nashville, TN—Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced the nine finalists for the 2023-24 Tennessee Teacher of the Year award. 

The nine finalists represent each of the eight Center of Regional Excellence (CORE) areas in the state, as well as the Shelby County Municipal area. The 2023-24 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, and three winners for each grand division, will be selected from this group and announced during the Excellence in Education Tennessee Teacher of the Year Banquet this fall.  

“Across the state, our educators are working tirelessly to ensure every Tennessee student excels in both their classrooms and communities,” said Interim Commissioner Sam Pearcy. “They dedicate countless hours each day teaching, mentoring, inspiring, and motivating their students; they cultivate a love of learning and invest in their students’ academic and future success. I am honored to recognize these hard working and committed Tennessee educators.”

Tennessee’s nine finalists for the 2023-24 Teacher of the Year are: 

West Tennessee
CORE Region Teacher  School District
Shelby/Municipals  Stephanie Thomas Lakeland Preparatory School Lakeland Schools
Southwest Marinda Hildenbrandt South Haven Elementary Henderson County Schools
Northwest Teresa Craig Dyersburg Intermediate School Dyersburg City Schools
Middle Tennessee
CORE Region Teacher  School District
Mid Cumberland  Sondra Wilson-Martin Franklin Elementary School Franklin Special School District
South Central Emily Fowler Culleoka Unit School Maury County Schools
Upper Cumberland Margie Cavender Prescott South Middle School Putnam County Schools
East Tennessee
CORE Region Teacher  School District
Southeast Sandra Howard Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts Hamilton County Schools
East Tennessee Gerald Cox Catlettsburg Elementary School Sevier County Schools
First Tennessee Melissa Testerman Rogersville Elementary School
Rogersville City School

“Teachers are an integral part of our society. They help to foster innovation, creativity, critical thinking, and leadership among our students,” said Dr. Melissa Collins, 2022-23 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, John P. Freeman Optional School, Memphis-Shelby County Schools. “As a Tennessee teacher, I am proud to work alongside remarkable educators who help nurture Tennessee students. Congratulations to the regional finalists! The state of Tennessee is proud of you!”   

“It is an honor to congratulate Sondra Wilson-Martin for being recognized as a teacher of the year finalist. Through her outstanding work she is transforming the lives of young people and empowering students to reach their full potential,” said State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. “Her dedication is an inspiration to all Tennessee teachers who work hard every day to serve their students.”

“Congratulations to Sandra Howard and the team at Chattanooga High School Center for the Creative Arts for Ms. Howard’s selection as a Teacher of the Year Finalist. Ms. Howard represents the Best of the Best, and her selection is well-deserved, but great teaching does not exist in a vacuum,” said State Senator Bo Watson. “It takes a great team, and teachers like Ms. Howard elevate everyone on the team with her teaching excellence.”

Congratulations to Sandra Howard on being recognized as one of our Teacher of the Year award finalists,” said State Representative Patsy Hazlewood. “Educators like Sandra are critical in ensuring Tennessee children receive a high-quality education so they can succeed. We are incredibly grateful to Sandra and all of our outstanding teachers for their dedication, determination, and their profound impact on changing the lives of students and families.”

“I want to congratulate all the finalists and certainly want to congratulate Mrs. Melissa (Missy) Testerman on her designation as a Tennessee Teacher of the Year finalist,” said State Representative Gary Hicks. “Several years ago my daughter, Caroline, was fortunate enough to have Mrs. Testerman as her 2nd grade teacher. I witnessed firsthand how she pours her heart and soul into her students and her profession. Missy is a shining example of how dedicated and passionate our teachers are not only at Rogersville City School, but across the State of Tennessee! Congrats to Mrs. Testerman on a job well done!”

“I want to congratulate Emily Fowler on being named a finalist of Tennessee’s top teachers of the year. This is an incredible honor that highlights the remarkable impact she’s had in our community,” said State Representative Scott Cepicky. “Maury County is fortunate to have so many great educators like Emily who are dedicated to ensuring that every student is successful.”

"Teachers are the backbone of our schools and the ones shaping the future,” said State Senator Brent Taylor. “We thank them and are proud to honor Stephanie Thomas for her dedication to educating our children!”

“Congratulations to Sondra Wilson-Martin for being recognized as a finalist for Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Sondra represents the best of the dedicated professionals who are committed to preparing Tennessee’s future generations of citizens and leaders. Our community is blessed to have the best public schools in our nation. Franklin Special School District’s teachers and staff are steadfast leaders in working with parents and students to ensure education excellence in every classroom,” said State Representative Sam Whitson. “I am happy for Sondra for this great recognition of her outstanding devotion to her profession, Franklin Special School District, and especially the students fortunate to have her as their teacher over the years.”

“Educators dedicate their lives to ensuring our children receive the best education possible, and their work deserves to be recognized,” said State Senator Joey Hensley. “I would like to congratulate Emily Fowler for being recognized as a finalist for Teacher of the Year! We appreciate her commitment to education, children, and the community!”

“I would put our teachers in District 79 up against any in the state. We are blessed with great individuals who understand they are helping to develop the state's most important assets, our children! Mrs. Marinda Hildenbrandt exemplifies everything that is great about our public school educators,” said State Representative Brock Martin. “We are so grateful for her service to South Haven and want to congratulate her on such an honor!”

“Melissa makes a difference every day in the lives of her students – and serving as a mentor to others – I could not be more proud,” said State Senator Jon Lundberg.

“Congratulations to all finalists who had been nominated for Tennessee Teacher of the Year. A good teacher is a wonderful thing and I am proud to represent the district that such a wonderful teacher, like Gerald Cox, works so hard in," said State Senator Frank Niceley. “Thank you, Mr. Cox and Congratulations.”

“It is no surprise to the citizens of Putnam County that one of our own, Margie Cavender, is being honored as one of Tennessee’s Teachers of the Year Finalists. Abby and I know firsthand that the 42nd District has excellent teachers," said State Representative Ryan Williams. "We congratulate Ms. Cavender for her outstanding achievements in the classroom and in our community.”

"Who wouldn't be proud of what Ms. Teresa Craig has accomplished? We are proud of what she has done for the Dyersburg City School System and I congratulate her for all of her hard work, effort and sacrifices," said State Representative Rusty Grills.

Nominations of up to three educators representing each of the three grade bands were accepted from the state’s school districts. The Tennessee Teacher of the Year and Grand Division winners will be selected after interview rounds with each finalist.

Finalists will have the opportunity to serve on the department’s Tennessee Teacher Advisory Council for the duration of the 2024-25 and 2025-26 school years. The council is composed of expert teachers who engage with the department and other state agencies throughout the academic year.

The Tennessee Teacher of the Year awardee will represent Tennessee in the National Teacher of the Year competition and serve as an ambassador for education in the state throughout the 2023-24 school year. To qualify, candidates must have been teaching full-time for at least three years, have a track record of exceptional gains in student learning, and be effective school and community leaders.

To learn more about the Tennessee Teacher of the Year award, click here.

For Tennessee Department of Education media inquiries, email