East St. Louis English Educator Briana Morales is the 2024 Illinois Teacher of the Year

East St. Louis English Educator Briana Morales is the 2024 Illinois Teacher of the YearBriana Morales, an English teacher at Gordon Bush Alternative Center in East St. Louis School District 189, has been named the 2024 Illinois Teacher of the Year. This prestigious award was presented to Morales during a surprise visit by state Superintendent of Education Dr. Tony Sanders. Morales teaches 11th and 12th grade English and is known for her innovative approach to education, focusing on competency-based learning that allows students to progress at their own pace.

Morales’ teaching philosophy centers around empowering her students by creating healing-centered spaces where they feel seen, heard and valued. Her approach is deeply rooted in cultural responsiveness and trauma-informed practices, which help students navigate their personal challenges. “We’re elevating peoples’ humanity at all times,” Morales stated. “Every day here, we do the best that we can to show our students that who you are is enough.”

Colleagues and students alike praise Morales for her dedication and passion. “She has an incredible ability to connect with her students and inspire them to reach their full potential,” said a fellow teacher. Her students, many of whom have experienced significant adversity, are encouraged to transform their pain into power through poetry and other forms of self-expression.

In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Morales serves as a school board member for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, School District #428, where she advocates for justice-impacted youth. She has also been a key figure in state-level diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, recently securing $300,000 in state funding to provide professional development for educators in cultural responsiveness.

Morales holds a Bachelor of Arts in secondary English education from St. Ambrose University and a Master of Education in curriculum and instruction from American College of Education. She is currently a doctoral candidate in diversity and equity in education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Recognized for her consistent demonstration of excellence and innovation in education, Morales’ commitment to her students and community has set a new standard for teaching excellence.

As part of her recognition as the 2024 Illinois Teacher of the Year, Morales will embark on a one-year ambassadorship, supported by a state-funded sabbatical that allows her to continue teaching under her guidance. She will also represent Illinois in the National Teacher of the Year program, further highlighting her exemplary contributions to education.

Reflecting on her achievement, Morales said, “I think that students deserve good teachers no matter what district they’re in. There are kids who need a teacher who is excited to see them every single day.”

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