Inspire the Future: Introducing the FIRST Educators Recognition Program

“Invisible Work” No More: Recognizing the Multifaceted Role of Teachers

May 06, 2021 By Libby Simpson, Education Director, FIRST




FIRST Educators Recognition Program


Teachers are a vital part of the FIRST community: They work in the classroom and afterschool to mentor and coach teams, help organize and volunteer for FIRST events in their schools and communities, and advocate for FIRST programs in their districts.

All week, we’ve been highlighting the invisible work of teachers on all FIRST social media channels in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week. We’re bringing to light this often-unseen work teachers take on to help their students succeed – work that has become even more challenging and all-consuming during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are so appreciative of teachers’ time and dedication to making FIRST programs accessible to students all over the world. In honor of our commitment to recognize the outstanding work of educators in the FIRST community and inspired by the powerful ethos of “Teacher in Space” Christa McAuliffe – “I touch the future. I teach.” – we are thrilled to introduce the Inspire the Future: FIRST Educators Recognition Program!

The Program will open for nominations in late 2021. We’re excited to share more information about how to submit a nomination later this year. Sign up to be notified when the Recognition Program officially launches – we hope you’ll take the opportunity to help recognize the amazing work of educators in the FIRST community!

“Invisible Work” No More: The Multifaceted Role of Teachers

The “invisible work” of teachers – that breadth of work that happens outside the classroom and after the final school bell rings – has truly come to light over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic. During my time in K-12 classrooms, no matter the learning environment, I observed so many of my colleagues who continually have gone above and beyond to support their students. To bring to light this important, often thankless, work, I’ve been having candid and insightful conversations with teachers, parents, and students from the FIRST community. 

Watch Libby’s educator interview series


Teachers have always played roles in their student’s lives that go way beyond “knowledge sharers,” but that’s never been truer than this year. As reflected in the experiences shared by my interviewees, today’s educators are also:

Lifelong learners: The learning doesn’t stop when you become a teacher, especially in a year when many educators felt the experience of being a first-year teacher all over again without a “teacher toolbox” for engaging students. Our educators were resilient in the face of change and even drew inspiration from it.

“Teaching is one of those jobs that you keep learning all the time, and I think that’s what draws me to teaching… Teachers always work hard, we always learn a lot from every year we teach, but this year everybody has had to really reinvent the wheel.”  Enrique Arce-Larreta, FIRST DoD STEM Teacher Ambassador, physics teacher, robotics team mentor

“You don’t really see the resilience and perseverance that’s happening behind the scenes to lift kids up and to continue educating even in an environment that is ever changing… We’re having to find multiple ways to reach our kids, whether it be through remote learning, hybrid days.” – Annemarie Lampright, STEM coordinator, FIRST school district champion, Amazon Future Engineer grant recipient

“We were put into this situation where we had to learn a lot of new things about ourselves and our students, and basically adopting technology, learning different types of technology and taking it as far as we could … I didn’t realize how many great resources were out there for educators.” – Kavita Whitney, robotics teacher, parent, FIRST coach

Care givers: Many teachers play a critical role in supporting the mental health of their students, as caring adults who provide a nurturing environment to help them learn and thrive. This year, teachers went above and beyond to meet their students social-emotional needs – while also providing support to parents and each other as colleagues.

“Teachers play a really important role in the education of all their students. You have to be so many things to a student: a teacher, a mentor, a counselor, a parent sometimes. Sometimes you provide for their physical needs and for their food. I think that teachers impact students in ways the general public cannot begin to understand. Sherry Comer, afterschool services director, FIRST mentor

“We had weekly Zooms [last spring] and I noticed the students really missed seeing not only their teachers but just each other. I felt it was so important to meet them at that emotional level, have those zooms. Sometimes it was to go over important robotics topics but sometimes it was just to be there for them and have them be there for each other and that really helped everyone during those times.” – Kavita Whitney, robotics teacher, parent, FIRST coach

Improvisers: Among the many inequalities the pandemic has brought to greater light is the disparate access to digital infrastructure available to students – and even the teachers themselves – outside school buildings. Educators have had to figure out how to meet students where they are with resources to continue their learning.  One of the core abilities of educators in their ability to adapt to almost constant change and this year, where everyone was experiencing unprecedented change; teachers came through for their students.

“We’re in rural Tennessee so not all of our kids have access to the internet. Teachers were just in tears. They’ve never filmed lessons before; some of our teachers are more tech savvy than others. It’s been so challenging. Inspiration has been the key word this year and really what we’ve needed to do – inspiring each other to meet that challenge.” – Annemarie Lampright, STEM coordinator, FIRST school district champion, Amazon Future Engineer grant recipient

Lead learners: Kids need structure and routine in their lives to support their learning, and the past year has felt like anything but a normal routine. Many educators shared they used FIRST to provide that sense of normalcy.

“Teachers provide structure for kids… All kids crave structure, and I think that’s one thing FIRST provides: You’re working under time constraints and a set of rules, but you have to be creative and think critically, and teachers help put that all in a nice box and show them how it relates.” – Sherry Comer, afterschool services director, FIRST mentor

“The challenges that we’re facing it goes way beyond academics. There’s a structure to education and a structure to the way kids are used to doing things. The structure’s not there anymore… What FIRST has helped to bring to our district is … given our kids a sense of normalcy; it’s given them an outlet; it’s given them a place to say ‘I know this is going to be there. No matter how it looks, it’s going to be there.’”  Annemarie Lampright, STEM coordinator, FIRST school district champion, Amazon Future Engineer grant recipient


Career counselors: Educators help students connect STEM classroom concepts to real world applications and create pathways for the future. In a year full of change and uncertainty, educators continued to make time to ensure that students are ready for the future of work. 

“I do different things in both my classroom and extracurricular-wise in my school to help [students] have opportunities and experiences [to prepare for careers]… A huge component we need to focus on in K-12 education is just more computational learning because there are so many jobs coming out from that… Working with DoD STEM and learning about all these different organizations that are running events and competitions, there’s so much teachers can do, there’s so much opportunities for STEM in the K-12 districts.” – Enrique Arce-Larreta, physics teacher, FIRST DoD STEM Teacher Ambassador, FIRST mentor

“My teachers have always supported my academic work and my work outside of the classroom… for example my biology has been really helpful while I’ve been looking to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. The faculty at my high school have also encouraged my work in the community [including my principal’s efforts to support my work] making and donating PPE and snacks to front line-workers.” – Angelica Whitney, student, FIRST participant


Champions: As role models for their students and wholehearted champions of the next generation, educators continue to shape the future through their work.

“Teachers shape the future by inspiring our students and showing them what the world has to offer. Teachers have such a big influence on the students, and I think that’s one big thing that makes teaching priceless.”  Kavita Whitney, robotics teacher, parent, FIRST coach

“I’ve been teaching tech-ed for 32 years.... The instructional technology definitely has changed, the learning has not. You’ve got to have passion, be engaging; the kids have to see the why in what you’re trying to teach them... that’s been my driving force, to always challenge the kids and give them the “why” – why they need to be there – and have them thinking about what they’re going to be doing down the road… They can choose any avenue they want to go.  Mitch Comer, technology teacher, FIRST mentor


It was an honor to spotlight the work of amazing educators, and a huge thank you to my interviewees for sharing their stories, even during the busiest time in the school year. To all our FIRST community educators who support and inspire their students, no matter where they’re learning, thank you for the dedication, attention and inspiration you bring to the students in your community. We look forward to recognizing more of you through the Inspire the Future: FIRST Educators Recognition Program.


A Wonderful Gift to Give During Teacher Appreciation Week: The 2021 Christa McAuliffe Silver Dollar Coin

With her role in the “Teacher in Space” program, Christa McAuliffe set out to be a representative of all teachers and bring the important work educators do to inspire the future to greater light. The 2021 Christa McAuliffe Silver Dollar Coin, issued by the United States Mint, is a reflection of the incredible impact teachers have on their students – and therefore, the future. Her ethos of "I touch the future. I teach." speaks to educators around the world who inspire the future every single day. Learn more about the coin.

2021 Christa McAuliffe Silver Coin

If you have an inspiring story or piece of wisdom that you’ve picked up through your experiences in the FIRST community, please reach out to us at and inquire about becoming a guest contributor for Inspire.

Back to Blog