Why DC’s Teacher of the Year isn’t keeping her prize money

Beth Barkley, second from left, is D.C.'s 2023 Teacher of the Year. (WTOP/Scott Gelman)

High school teacher Beth Barkley stood in the back of the library with her students at Cardozo Education Campus in D.C. on Wednesday afternoon as Mayor Muriel Bowser talked about International Day of the Girl.

But then, Barkley was unexpectedly summoned to the front of the room to be recognized as the 2024 DC Teacher of the Year.

She’s taught at Cardozo Education Campus for eight years, and is currently a high school teacher at the International Academy, working with many students who are new to the U.S.

Bowser and State Superintendent of Education Christina Grant praised Barkley for her ability to connect with all students.

“She’s an expert instructor who consistently delivers strong academic results for her students, many of whom have newly arrived in this country and who are just beginning their language learning journeys,” Grant said.

In addition to working with new students at the international academy, Barkley teaches a human rights and social justice class. She was a finalist for Teacher of the Year in 2020, and has been rated a “highly effective” educator by DC Public Schools since 2017.

Barkley described her classroom as interactive, pointing out she gives students the opportunity to lead. And sometimes, one of her students said Wednesday, Barkley asks them how to say something in Spanish.

“They certainly inspire me,” Barkley said of her students. “And it’s rewarding to see them going from not speaking any English to being advocates for themselves in their communities.”

As part of the recognition, Barkley was provided with a $7,500 check, which she said will be used to start a scholarship or grant fund “for undocumented youth to continue their education at the next level. Unfortunately, they don’t qualify for most scholarships or financial aid.”

Before teaching at Cardozo, Barkley taught in El Salvador and Prince George’s County, Maryland.

Barkley recently worked with students on an effort for access to mental health services, and said she’s inspired by many of her students’ stories.

“We’re learning together constantly,” Barkley said. “So there’s lots of questions that we have and we challenge each other’s thinking, and we do research and we share experiences and we learn from each other’s experiences.”

As Teacher of the Year, Grant said Barkley “will spend a year amplifying the voices and the needs of vulnerable and marginalized students both in Washington D.C. and across the country.”

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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