The Tennessee Department of Education announced today the nine finalists for the 2017-18 Tennessee Teacher of the Year award.

Ms. Karen Latus from Bearden High School was selected as the East Tennessee Finalist. As a finalist, Ms. Latus will have the opportunity to serve on Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s Teacher Advisory Council for the duration of the 2017-18 school year; the council acts as a working group of expert teachers to provide feedback and inform the work of the department throughout the school year.

Ms. Latus has served Knox County Schools for eight years as a track and field and cross country coach, a Spanish teacher and a health center clinician. Prior to joining Knox County Schools she served Loudon County Schools and other public high schools in Michigan.

Bearden High School Principal John Bartlett describes Ms. Latus as “one of the most passionate educators he has ever been around whose creativity in teaching is off the charts.”

Ms. Latus is passionate about teaching Spanish, but also works to reach out to students who need help assimilating in high school or society and creates a safe place for them to learn, create and grow. She recognizes that though experiencing the products of another culture—including art, literature, food and music—is one of the most enjoyable aspects of a language class, going beyond surface appreciation to understand the perspectives of a foreign culture can be more challenging. She also believes that creating a non-threatening environment in which students can learn about different ideas while simultaneously avoiding caricaturing or appropriating the examined culture is essential.

“Putting an excellent teacher in every classroom is one of the highest priorities of Knox County Schools. Ms. Latus is an exemplary educator and we are incredibly grateful to her for the time and energy she puts into teaching and nurturing our students through personalized learning,” said Superintendent Bob Thomas.

The Tennessee Teacher of the Year will be selected from the list of nine finalists and will represent the state in the National Teacher of the Year competition and serve as a state-wide ambassador for education throughout the year.