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Anchorage Teacher Surprised with $25,000 Milken Educator Award

West High School's Temperance Tinker Kays among more than 60 outstanding educators nationwide to receive Award

Oprah Winfrey congratulates Milken Educators in heartwarming video message as 'light in this world'

April 06, 2022

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — In a surprise assembly today, West High School's Temperance Tinker Kays received the surprise of a lifetime, a $25,000 Milken Educator Award for excellence and innovation in education. The English teacher was recognized for her outstanding efforts to create a nurturing, supportive environment while encouraging excellence from her students. Milken Educator Awards Senior Program Director Greg Gallagher and Alaska Commissioner of Education Dr. Michael Johnson surprised Tinker Kays with the honor before cheering students, colleagues, state and local officials, and the media. 

"Outstanding educators are role models that provide guidance students carry with them for years after they've left that classroom, and Temperance Tinker Kays' exceptional leadership and innovation have not gone unnoticed," said Gallagher. "Her high standards coupled with her ability to challenge her students to take intellectual risks are what make her a Milken Educator Award recipient." 

"Thank you to Ms. Tinker-Kays and the Milken Foundation for giving us another opportunity to celebrate quality teaching," said Dr. Michael Johnson, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, who is a Milken Educator himself from Alaska’s 2008 class. "Congratulations Ms. Tinker Kays for this premier award and recognition." 

Hailed as the "Oscars of Teaching," the Milken Educator Awards celebrate, elevate and activate the American teaching profession and inspire young, capable people to join it. The Milken Educator Award is not a lifetime achievement honor. Recipients are heralded while early to mid-career for what they have achieved — and for the promise of what they will accomplish given the resources and opportunities inherent in the Award.

Oprah, a longtime education advocate, shared her congratulations to this year’s winners in a video message shared earlier this year thanking "the most incredible educators around the country" and acknowledging her deep appreciation for the "tireless work" they do. 

More About Temperance Tinker Kays 

Leadership through Innovation and Creativity: Creating a calm, nurturing, supportive environment, Tinker Kays encourages her students to take intellectual risks and work hard to meet her high standards. She creates "Vocab Slam" events where students use vocabulary words they encounter during literature units to create unique slam poetry and think imaginatively. 

As a mentor to many of West High's National Merit Scholarship semifinalists, Tinker Kays helps them hone their writing and presentation skills while helping them grow into well-adjusted, compassionate and productive citizens – all while assisting them on that journey. She is a strong role model for her students and emphasizes the importance of thinking outside the box while building their confidence and finding their voice. One example of this is her collaboration initiative with StoryWorks, a local organization that helps students develop and share personal stories. She is an integral part of the West community mentoring new teachers, coaching soccer and serving as a faculty sponsor for the Hammock, Spoken Word and YANA (You Are Not Alone) Clubs. 

Tinker Kays often brings community members into her classroom for career exploration and workshops, eager to help her students find their paths after high school. When the pandemic prevented West's traditional graduation ceremony, Tinker Kays penned handwritten letters to each former student and presented them when the graduates arrived at school to pick up their diplomas. She also advised a group of juniors and seniors as they researched, developed curriculum, earned district-level approval and then delivered peer-led education on consent and dating violence. As a lead sponsor for West's Partners Club, she organized activities like bowling, skiing and an annual "Polar Plunge" for life skills students and teen mentors, as well as taught students how to participate with medically fragile students, while growing the program significantly. Thanks to Tinker Kays, ESPN named West to its 2019 Honor Roll as part of the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools National Recognition Program. 

Education: Tinker Kays earned a bachelor's in anthropology in 2003 from Northern Arizona University; a post-graduate diploma in English in 2006 from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand; and a MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching) in 2007 from the University of Alaska, Anchorage.

More About the Milken Educator Awards: "The future belongs to the educated."

Along with the $25,000 financial prize, recipients join the national Milken Educator Network, a group of more than 2,800 top teachers, principals and specialists. The network serves as a rich resource for fellow educators, legislators, school boards and others dedicated to excellence in education. 

  • In June, the honorees will attend an all-expenses-paid Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles, where they will network with their new colleagues as well as veteran Milken Educators and other education leaders about how to increase their impact on K-12 education. In addition, they will learn about how to become involved in the Milken Friends Forever (MFFs) mentoring program, in which freshman Milken Educators receive personalized coaching and support from a Milken Educator veteran on ways to elevate their instructional practice and take an active role in educational leadership, policy and practice.
  • Over the years, more than $140 million in funding, including $70 million for the individual cash awards, has been devoted to the overall Milken Awards initiative, which includes powerful professional development opportunities throughout recipients' careers. 
  • Veteran Milken Educators frequently go on to serve in leadership roles at state, national and international levels. 
  • “We find you. You don’t find us!” Unlike most teacher recognition programs, the Milken Educator Awards initiative has no formal nomination or application process. Candidates are sourced through a confidential selection process and then reviewed by blue ribbon panels in each state. The most exceptional candidates are recommended for the award, with final selection made by the Milken Family Foundation. 
  • The $25,000 cash award is unrestricted. Recipients have used the money in diverse ways. For instance, some have spent the funds on their children's or their own continuing education, financing dream field trips, establishing scholarships, and even adopting children.   

To get regular updates on the surprise Milken Educator Award events or to watch the award events unfold, follow and use the #MilkenAward hashtag on Facebook (@MilkenEducatorAwards), Twitter (@Milken), YouTube (/MilkenAward), Instagram (MilkenFamilyFdn), and TikTok (@MilkenAward). 

For more information, visit or call the Milken Family Foundation at (310) 570-4772. 

About the Milken Educator Awards
The first Milken Educator Awards were presented by the Milken Family Foundation in 1987. The awards provide public recognition and individual financial rewards of $25,000 to elementary and secondary school teachers, principals and specialists from around the country who are furthering excellence in education. Recipients are heralded in early to mid-career for what they have achieved and for the promise of what they will accomplish. The initiative was created by the Milken Family Foundation, which celebrates 40 years of elevating education in America and around the world. Learn more at 

Press Contact:

Jana Rausch
Vice President, Communications
310-570-4774 Office 310-435-9259 Cell