Joe Fatheree

Joe Fatheree

Effingham High School teacher Joe Fatheree is often described as a humble man.

Back at work this week after being named the top educator in the country by the National Education Association Foundation Friday, Fatheree claims the most important thing that happened to him recently was having a banana nut muffin for breakfast. His main focus, of course, is still his teaching.

“The real part comes into play when we come back to work on Monday. I was just as excited to get back to work on Monday as I was to be there Friday,” he said.

Fatheree took home the top honor of the Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence and the $25,000 prize at NEA Foundation’s annual Salute to Excellence in Education gala dinner. He and four other educators also received the Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence and $10,000.

“It made you feel proud to be a teacher. I just wish more teachers could be there. I think if every teacher in America could have that opportunity, it’s just the way every teacher should feel at the end of the day when they go home from work,” Fatheree said.

At the high school, Fatheree has served as an English teacher, a history teacher and a technology instructor, which includes a film production, Web design and multimedia class taught with Teutopolis High School teacher Craig Lindvahl.

“With more than 20 years of teaching experience, he has won numerous awards and honors, is active in many professional and community activities, and is known by his peers for his professionalism, his creativity, his love of teaching and learning, his willingness to serve as an advocate for his profession, and his ability to lead and to share,” NEA Foundation Director of Communications Edith Wooten said.

About 25 of Fatheree’s students helped to create a short film about his teaching career last semester with a two-person team from the Pearson Foundation that premiered at the gala dinner.

“It was the first year they did that, and the audience was so excited to see the kids and their thoughts. I was proud of the kids to have the opportunity to show off their work. I got a lot of great compliments,” Fatheree said.

The student film can be seen at

Fatheree also had the unusual opportunity to share the stage with Bob McGrath and other characters from Sesame Street, who received the Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education.

“I had some private time with the Cookie Monster, and that was fun. The Cookie Monster was energetic, and I really enjoyed meeting Bob (McGrath) from Sesame Street. I didn’t realize he was a fellow Illinoisan. He was very supportive of me,” Fatheree said.

After his trip, Fatheree is even more proud to be a teacher for Effingham.

“One of the things I took away from the evening is how good a school district we have. We have a tremendous staff. I hope people realize just how lucky we are to have the other teachers in the district,” he said.

A public reception to honor Fatheree will be held from 3:15-4:30 p.m. Thursday in the high school cafetorium.

Angie Faller can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 131 or


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