Meet Kareem Neal: The first Arizona teacher chosen for the “National Teachers Hall of Fame”

The news of his induction was a surprise he got to experience with his students.
Published: Apr. 19, 2022 at 9:17 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - After fifteen years at Maryvale High School, Kareem Neal’s classroom certainly feels like home. “Somehow every single time I walk in it feels special,” he told Arizona’s Family on Tuesday. “It feels like this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Neal didn’t think he’d ever be a special education teacher. He grew up in New Jersey and went to college for chemical engineering with no plans to teach until a Special Olympics event during his junior year.

“The coach said, ‘Hey, can you come talk to the athletes? They are really kind of enthralled by how tall you are,’” Neal said. “I’m really tall. I’m six foot, 7 inches. I went over and the athletes were the most authentic people ever. And that’s what I always get with special education. The students give you their true selves.”

Now, his decades of dedication are earning him a spot in the National Teachers Hall of Fame. The news of his induction was a surprise he got to experience with his students. What keeps Neal going every fall is changing his craft to meet the needs of new students as they change each year. He wants the teens to feel like they can be their authentic selves and comfortable talking to anyone despite our apparent differences.

“We’re all doing group projects together and making sure that despite how people learn, despite how people look or where they come from, they will find ways to connect with other humans,” Neal said. “Because I think we all need that to make this world better.”

Neal was a coach for the girls’ basketball team for two years at the high school helps run “Panthertown,” which is a diversity and social justice club on campus. He was also named the Arizona Teacher of the Year in 2019. When people ask about his plans for the future, Neal says he wants to keep teaching at Maryvale High School.

“I love the thought of teachers being celebrated,” he said. “I wish that more teachers could be celebrated. It seems like it’s always one.”

The National Teachers Hall of Fame is a non-profit founded in Emporia, Kansas in 1998. Neal is one of five inductees being honored in 2022.