Supporting excellence in K–12 education has long been central to Humanities Texas's mission. For more than thirty years, Humanities Texas has honored the most dedicated and inspiring humanities teachers in our state through our Outstanding Teaching Award program.

These incredible teachers from across Texas strengthen and reaffirm the importance of humanities education in their schools, districts, and communities. Our award winners foster civic engagement, instill a lifelong love of learning, and help students develop the reading, writing, and critical thinking skills necessary for success in and beyond the classroom. They remind us that the humanities play a critical role in uniting us during challenging times and that a single teacher can transform countless students' lives.

In continuing celebration of our fiftieth anniversary, we are pleased to highlight our Outstanding Teaching Awards and the remarkable educators we have recognized over the past three decades.

History of the Outstanding Teaching Awards

In 1990, Humanities Texas (then the Texas Committee for the Humanities) launched the Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award program, funded by a grant from the T. L. L. Temple Foundation. The program was established to recognize exemplary teachers of English language arts, foreign languages, history, and social studies, as well as fine arts teachers who emphasize the history, criticism, and theory of the arts. That first year, six winning teachers—from Austin, Denton, Hurst, Lufkin, San Antonio, and Wellman—each received a $1,000 prize, with an additional $1,000 for their schools to support humanities programming.

Since then, the Outstanding Teaching Awards program has expanded from six annual winners to fifteen. In 2008, we increased the stipend associated with the award to $5,000 to better reflect the significance of the winning teachers' commitment and achievements. We added an additional category in 2013: the Award for Outstanding Early-Career Teaching, which recognizes teachers new to the profession. Since 1990, we have honored over three hundred teachers with Outstanding Teaching Awards.

Today, the Humanities Texas Outstanding Teaching Award is the most prestigious statewide award for classroom teachers in the humanities. Each fall, we call for nominations in three separate award categories: the Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award, the Linden Heck Howell Outstanding Teaching of Texas History Award, and the Award for Outstanding Early-Career Teaching. Last year, we received over six hundred nominations from all areas of the state.

Fifteen award recipients are selected: twelve Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award winners; one Linden Heck Howell Outstanding Teaching of Texas History Award winner; and three recipients of Awards for Outstanding Early-Career Teaching. Each of the fifteen recipients receives $5,000, with an additional $1,000 for their school to support humanities resources and programming. Special award presentations are held the following academic year involving members of the school and community leaders.

Named Awards

Three of our Outstanding Teaching Awards are named in honor of individuals who have had a significant impact on the history of the organization.

In 2001, we established the Linden Heck Howell Outstanding Teaching of Texas History Award in memory of a former chair of the Humanities Texas Board of Directors. Born in Midland in 1953, Linden Heck Howell attended Texas Tech University and The University of Texas School of Law, earning her JD in 1979. She and her husband, Bill Howell, pursued careers around the globe in politics and the private sector but ultimately returned to their home state in 1995. Howell was appointed by then-Governor George W. Bush to the Board of Directors of Humanities Texas in 1996 and had just accepted nomination to a third term as chair before her untimely death in 1999. In the three years that she served on the board, she demonstrated exemplary commitment to the study of Texas history and inspired friends, family, and colleagues with her service. Her contributions to Texas and the humanities council live on in the work of the teachers who receive this award in her honor.

Since 2006, we have designated the top-ranked candidate for the Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award as the recipient of the James F. Veninga Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award. Jim Veninga served as executive director of Humanities Texas from 1975 to 1997. During his twenty-three years leading the organization, he articulated a vision for the public humanities that continues to guide us today.

Veninga expressed his guiding philosophy for the council's work in an interview for our January 2013 newsletter: "The humanities belong to the people, and people should have access to the humanities for continuing education and learning." This perspective was evident in the initiatives that he led Humanities Texas to support, which included a wide-reaching examination of the future of education in Texas, a groundbreaking program that explored the legacy and impact of the Vietnam War, and the Texas Women's History Project.

Veninga gained national recognition for his leadership in the humanities, serving on the boards of the Federation of State Humanities Councils and the Wisconsin Humanities Council. In a newsletter article published shortly after his death in 2014, many of those who knew him reflect on the lasting impact of Veninga's commitment to Humanities Texas.

In 2018, Humanities Texas added another named award, this time in honor of former board chair Julius Glickman. The Julius Glickman Educational Leadership Award recognizes one of the fifteen Outstanding Teaching Award recipients who demonstrates exceptional leadership in the education field. A prominent Houston attorney and civic leader, Glickman served on the Humanities Texas board for seven years, leading the capital campaign to purchase and restore the Byrne-Reed House and initiating the partnership with Houston Public Radio that resulted in our Texas Originals radio series.

Glickman's role as a leader began early when he served as student body president while attending The University of Texas at Austin. His impact extends well beyond his work with Humanities Texas. Many other organizations—including the Association for Community Television, the Houston Symphony, the UT Health Science Center at Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin—have benefited immensely from his leadership and generosity. In 2012, he received UT Austin's Distinguished Alumnus Award.

With this award, Humanities Texas commemorates the outstanding contributions of both Glickman and the teachers who exhibit the same quality of leadership in their educational communities.

Significance and Impact

Our Outstanding Teaching Awards have a lasting impact on the teachers who receive them. Hear from the teachers on what the award means to them in their own words:

The Humanities Texas OTA award was meaningful in so many ways. . . . Perhaps most importantly, it confirmed to me that there are organizations and individuals willing to support public education. It is such support that allows public education to continue its mission to produce the citizenry essential to the survival of democratic institutions and values in an increasingly diverse community, nation, and world. (Jim Furgeson, 2009)

Receiving the award was such a great honor because it reflected the countless amount of hours I had put into planning and creating unique experiences for my students. The award gave me a resounding boost of confidence that while teaching is hard work, what is done within the classroom and surrounding spaces is pivotal for the young people of this world and that I need to continue on this path no matter the shape it takes and title it manifests. I am so thankful to be honored so early in my teaching career, and knowing that there are such strong supporters of educators is phenomenal! (Dhara Lad, 2018)

It was, in essence, the validation of not only a teaching career, but of a life. It served as rightful recognition of more than thirty years of coming in early, staying late, attending extracurricular activities, coming in on Saturdays and truly giving a damn about my students and their education. Winning the award struck me like a thunderbolt. I realized that it gave me justification for my existence, my purpose here on this earth, and the professional choices I have made. Since winning the prestigious award, and its generous monetary gift, I've walked a little straighter, my head held a little higher, a smile of satisfaction and gratitude hardly ever escapes my face, all because one generous and kind soul cared enough to recognize my work. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. (Mike Gross, 2018)

Presenting one of these awards is rewarding for all parties. Members of Congress, state officials, and educational leaders frequently join Humanities Texas board members and staff in honoring winners across Texas. Special award ceremonies reveal the school-wide impact of the winning teachers, as admiring students, colleagues, and family members come together to celebrate.

Clearly, the statewide recognition and monetary award not only reaffirm the value of the teaching profession but also provide encouragement and incentive to remain in the classroom. Our award winners exemplify best practices in humanities education, inspiring fellow teachers to emulate these successful skills and ultimately improving the quality of education that Texas students receive. Finally, our awards program provides Humanities Texas with a cohort of extraordinarily talented teachers who promote our programs in their communities and serve as master teachers and consultants for our educational initiatives.

Humanities Texas is committed to recognizing the extraordinary work of educators across the state. The role of teachers in our communities and in the lives of Texas students are more important than ever. We are humbled to be able to recognize and uplift the amazing educators in our state who put such thought and care into inspiring future generations through the study of the humanities.

Former Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael L. Gillette and 2008 Outstanding Teaching Award recipient Shirlene Bridgewater of Marble Falls High School at Bridgewater's award presentation. Bridgewater later served on the Humanities Texas Board of Directors from 2013 to 2016.
(From l to r:) Former Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael L. Gillette; Former Humanities Texas Board Chair Michael L. Klein; 2009 Outstanding Teaching Award recipient Kyle Olson of Austin's International High School; and U.S. Congressman Lloyd Doggett.
(From l to r:) Dean of Early College at LBJ High School Yesenia Sandoval, Humanities Texas Director of Grants Marco Buentello, 2016 Outstanding Teaching Award recipient Ana Cristina Martinez, and former LBJ High School Principal Armando Salazar at Martinez's presentation in Laredo.
Linden Heck Howell.
James F. Veninga.
Former Humanities Texas Board Chair Mary L. Volcansek and former Executive Director Michael L. Gillette thank former Past Chair Julius Glickman for his leadership, 2011.
(From l to r:) Former McCallum High School Principal Mike Garrison, former Humanities Texas Executive Director Michael L. Gillette, former Humanities Texas board member Venus Strawn, U.S. Congressman Michael T. McCaul, former U.S. Federal Judge Royal Furgeson, and 2009 Outstanding Teaching Award recipient Jim Furgeson.
(From l to r:) Humanities Texas Director of Grants Marco Buentello, 2018 Outstanding Teaching Award recipient Dhara Lad, and former Texas State Senator Don Huffines at Lad's award presentation at Emmett J. Conrad High School in Dallas.
2022 Outstanding Teaching Award recipient Anthony Gonzales (left) with U.S. Congressman Joaquin Castro at Gonzales's award presentation at Marshall High School in San Antonio.