For more information about the VFW Teacher of the Year program.

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Without our nation’s veterans, America would not be the great nation it is today. Our youth deserve to learn about our rich history, traditions and the role of our veterans in creating and shaping America.

The VFW Teacher of the Year award contest recognizes three exceptional teachers for their outstanding commitment to teaching Americanism and patriotism to their students. Each year, a classroom elementary, junior high and high school teacher whose curriculum focuses on citizenship education topics—for at least half of the school day in a classroom environment—can be nominated for the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award. Winners receive:

  • A $1,000 award for professional development expenses. 
  • A $1,000 award for his/her school. 
  • Two award plaques: one for the teacher, the other for his/her school.
  • An all-expenses-paid trip to attend a VFW conference to receive their award.  


Teachers who promote civic responsibility, flag etiquette and patriotism are prime candidates for the award.

If you know a teacher who plans field trips to city hall, organizes community volunteer projects or invites local veterans to speak in class, anything to help students develop a better understanding of democratic values and beliefs, this award is for them.


Step 1: In 350 words or less, describe why you feel your nominee is deserving of the award. Be sure to describe the teacher’s innovative teaching and resource development methods, as well as his or her dedication to education.

Step 2: Complete the Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award nomination form.

Step 3: Submit the nomination form along with your explanation to your local VFW Post by October 31st.   

Note: Nominations can be submitted by fellow teachers, supervisors or other interested individuals. Nominations submitted by relatives or self are not eligible.   


Based on the nominees submitted, VFW’s local chapters – called Posts – will recognize one outstanding teacher in grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Posts then submit their winning names to their District-level judging.

From there, the selected winners are forwarded to the Department-level (state-level). Once they are judged on a state level, the winners are passed along to VFW National Headquarters for consideration in the national awards contest.


And the 2017-18 Teacher of the Year winners are …



TOTY Elementary Winner
Emily Cowan Ezell, a third-grade teacher at Cowan Elementary School in Cowan, Tenn., has been selected for its 2018 Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award at the elementary level. Ezell was selected for fostering students’ patriotism through an annual production of her self-written and designed patriotic play, This Is Our Country, planning annual field trips to military museums, inviting local veterans to visit her classroom, and for showcasing veterans’ pictures and stories to help ensure patriotism lives year round in her school. She was sponsored by VFW Post 10904 in Manchester, Tenn.
TOTY Middle School Winner

Sara Gibson, a seventh-grade history teacher at Caroline Middle School in Milford, Va., has been selected for its 2018 Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award at the middle school level. Gibson was selected from entries submitted by VFW Posts across the U.S. and overseas. From spearheading her History Club’s creation of a Korean War Memorial in Caroline County, and portraying important historical figures from every era, to leading field trips to local war and military museums, Gibson’s unique ability to bring history to life while helping her students understand the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans made her a standout among this year’s submissions. She was sponsored by VFW Post 8529 in Sandston, Va. 

TOTY High School Winner
Michael Rauenhorst, an Air Force veteran and aerospace science teacher at North Pole High School in North Pole, Alaska, has been selected for its 2018 Smart/Maher VFW National Citizenship Education Teacher Award at the high school level. He was selected for encouraging community volunteerism, his leadership of the school’s Air Force JROTC, and his Curriculum in Action tours which reinforces not only science in the classroom, but encourages citizenship and strengthens students’ perspective of aviation and America’s military past, present and future. Rauenhorst is a Life member of North Pole, Alaska, VFW Post 10029. Rauenhorst was sponsored by VFW Post 10029 and its Auxiliary in North Pole, Alaska.

Want to receive updated information and materials on VFW’s Voice of Democracy, Patriot’s Pen and Teacher Award programs? Simply sign up using the scholarship program’s teacher request form.