Frequently Asked Questions

The Prize: What It Is and Who Funds It

  • 1. What is the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence?

    The Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence is an annual award of more than $1 million given to 18 outstanding skilled trades teachers and teacher teams in public high schools across America. Three grand prize winners will receive $100,000, and 15 winners will receive $50,000, with awards to be shared between the winning skilled trades program and the teacher or teacher team.

  • 2. Who funds the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence?

    The prize is operated by Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a philanthropic program of The Smidt Foundation, which was started by the founder of Harbor Freight Tools, Eric Smidt.

    Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is not part of Harbor Freight Tools USA, Inc. (or “HFT”), the national tool retailer.

    All cash awards to prize-winning teachers and schools come solely from The Smidt Foundation. Harbor Freight Tools provides operational support to The Smidt Foundation and donates tool carts and gifts cards in conjunction with the prize.


  • 3. Should I register with my work or personal email?

    We highly recommend that you register with a personal email account (ex. Gmail or Yahoo) because we have learned that emails from Harbor Freight Tools for Schools may be blocked by school email security systems.

  • 4. If I am experiencing technical or registration issues, who should I contact?

    Check the full directions on how to register and apply here. If that doesn’t help, please email us at

The Application

  • 5. Why is the application so writing-intensive?

    The application for the Prize for Teaching Excellence recognizes outstanding skilled trades teachers. It is designed to be rigorous, to draw out your passion for teaching and to capture the magic of your classroom—all in a way that our independent judges can understand and evaluate fairly. We recommend starting the application early and taking time to reflect on your craft.

  • 6. How long will the application take to complete?

    Teachers have shared with us that they have spent anywhere from a few hours to 30 or more hours completing their application. How quickly you write plays a role, as does how thoroughly you choose to write, reflect and edit. Because the Prize for Teaching Excellence recognizes outstanding teaching and awards more than $1 million in prizes, we designed the application to be rigorous.

  • 7. Can I submit photos, videos, or testimonials in support of my application?

    No outside photos or testimonials in support of your application will be accepted.

  • 8. Once I submit my application, can I go back to edit it?

    No. All applications are final upon submission.

  • 9. What’s the application deadline?

    • Round 1 applications are due on Friday, May 21, 2021, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time.
    • For finalists, Round 2 applications are due on Wednesday, August 4, 2021, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time.
  • 10. When will the finalists and winners be announced?

    • Finalists will be announced on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.
    • Winners will be announced in October 2021.


  • 12. Who can apply?

    This application process is designed for individual teacher applicants. No teacher may apply more than once for the 2021 prize. Teacher teams are not eligible to apply in one application like they have been in previous years.

    Administrators, teacher aides, grant writers, or non-skilled trades faculty members are not eligible to apply or receive the individual prize award and should not write the application. While you may ask for advice from colleagues, your answers should reflect your ideas and your original written work.

  • 14. Do I have to be nominated to apply?


  • 13. How do you define “skilled trades”?

    We define skilled trades classes as those that emphasize the expert use of tools and materials to build or repair products and structures. Most applicants will come from the following broad fields of trades education in public high schools:

    • Agriculture Mechanics
    • Carpentry
    • Construction
    • Electrical
    • HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning)
    • Manufacturing
    • Plumbing
    • Transportation mechanics and repair
    • Welding
  • 14. My trades class isn’t on your list. Can I still apply?

    It depends. We recognize that high school classes within the broad trades categories listed above have a variety of names, focus areas and sub-specialties. Past winners of the prize have taught, for example, green construction, marine systems technology, diesel mechanics, advanced manufacturing and engineering. The essential and common thread prize winners share is that their students work with their hands, using tools regularly in the classroom and throughout the course of study, to build, repair and maintain. Classes that do not meet our definition of skilled trades courses include, for example, cosmetology, design-only architecture courses and agriculture classes that focus solely on animal husbandry or horticulture. If you have additional questions about whether your program qualifies you to apply, please email

  • 15. My school, district and/or state policies do not allow me to receive the part of the prize award that goes to the individual teacher. Can I still apply?

    Yes. On the application, check the box indicating that you are applying on behalf of your school and that in the event you are named a winner, all prize money would be directed to your school’s skilled trades program, and not to you. This information will not be used as a factor in the judging process.

  • 16. I applied for the prize in the past but was not selected as a prize winner. Can I apply this year?

    Yes! We encourage applicants to try again, and many of our finalists and winners applied multiple years before advancing.

  • 17. I teach at a public elementary school (or public middle school, community college, or private school). Am I eligible?

    No. Elementary, middle and postsecondary teachers are ineligible, as are skilled trades educators at private schools and home-school teachers. While we recognize that teachers at a variety of institutions do excellent work teaching trades, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools is dedicated to supporting American public high schools. Teachers at district Career and Technical Education Centers serving both high school and post-secondary students may apply if they are members of their school district’s high school faculty. If you are a teacher at a career and technical education center not on a high school faculty, please email

  • 18. Who is eligible to apply for and receive the prize?

    The 2021 Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence is open to skilled trades teachers or teacher teams who are current faculty members at U.S. public high schools. Each applicant and each prize recipient must be an active faculty member in good standing who is not subject to any threatened, pending, or active disciplinary proceedings or involuntary leave of absence with their school, district or state education agencies or other authorities during the entire 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. For more details, see the full eligibility requirements available here.