We all know that teachers are truly some of the most important people in our children's lives. And it's a profession that can be seemingly thankless at times.

That's why when the Lafayette Education Foundation (LEF) gives out their awards each year, it truly warms my heart.

After hundreds of nominations, the 16 finalists have been identified in the four categories. And the nominees are:

Elementary School Category
Darmecia W. Crane - Milton Elementary/ Middle School - 5th grade
Ashley Jolet - Katherine Drexel Elementary School - Special Education
Mayme Suire - Family Life Christian Academy - 4th grade
Charlie West - Katherine Drexel Elementary School - 4th grade

Middle School Category
Vincent Robert Hicks - David Thibodaux STEM Academy - 6th-8th grade P.E./Basketball Coach
Michael Karnath - Youngsville Middle School - 6th-8th grade Modular Tech (Wood shop)
Monique Walker - L.J. Alleman Middle School - 7th grade English
Trudie Wolking - Cathedral Carmel School - Special Education

High School Category
Sandra Laborde Broussard - Comeaux High School - 9th-11th Grade Speech & Debate
Mel Didier- Comeaux High School - 11th-12th Grade Western Civilizations History
Shauna LeBlanc - Lafayette High School - 10th-11th grade Biology and Chemistry
Charles Young - Comeaux High School - 9th-12th grade NJROTC

Inspirational Category
Ashley Cagle - J. Wallace James Elementary School - Kindergarten
Lian Cheramie - Lafayette High School - 9th-12th grade Talented Theater
Mary Pierce - Myrtle Place Elementary School - Special Education
Sandra Thompson - Episcopal School of Acadiana - Kindergarten

The nominees are picked from outstanding K-12 educators in Lafayette Parish public, private and parochial schools. Educators are nominated by the students, parents, fellow educators and members of the Lafayette community.

To view the complete list of nominees, click here.

The 18th Annual LEF Teacher Awards will be held on Wednesday, January 20, 2016 at the Heymann Performing Arts Center.