Three suburban teachers among 15 finalists for Illinois Teacher of the Year

Three suburban teachers are among 15 finalists for the 2024 Illinois Teacher of the Year award.

Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Tony Sanders will select the Teacher of the Year awardee later this spring. ISBE will celebrate the winner and other awardees at a banquet on May 18.

The 15 finalists are part of a group of more than 500 Illinoisans who will be recognized for their contributions to education through the “Those Who Excel” and “Teacher of the Year” awards.

Illinois Teacher of the Year finalists include Berenice Diaz, a dual language preschool teacher at the Early Learning Center First Steps Preschool in East Maine District 63; Sam Figueroa, a Spanish teacher at Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire; and Rachael Mahmood, a fifth grade teacher at Georgetown Elementary School in Indian Prairie Community Unit District 204.

“There’s no doubt that our devoted educators in Illinois go above and beyond for our students every single day,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said in an ISBE news release.

State Superintendent Tony Sanders said the awards are a way to recognize educators for their dedication to their students and community.

“They have chosen to aim their considerable talents and passion toward giving back to their communities, uplifting people and shaping our collective future for the better,” Sanders said in a news release.

“These 15 teachers have displayed unparalleled excellence, service, and leadership within and beyond their classrooms,” Sanders said of the finalists. “Each of these teachers has a powerful story and message to share, and I am proud to recognize their efforts and provide a platform to elevate their voices.”

ISBE’s Teacher of the Year receives a year-long paid sabbatical to serve as an ambassador for the education profession.

Briana Morales, the 2023 Illinois Teacher of the Year, founded (Sister)Hood of Hope, Inc., a non-profit organization focused on mentoring high school girls of color. The organization also provides scholarships for young mothers, in honor of one of Morales’ students who passed away. Morales is an English teacher at Gordon Bush Alternative Center in East St. Louis who helps students process trauma by sharing their own stories in poetry.

For additional information about the Those Who Excel and Teacher of the Year awards, visit

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