Honoring Teachers’ Commitment to Continual Improvement through Collaboration

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

Teacher Appreciation Week is one of my favorite times of the school year! Honoring the educators who spend countless hours creating lesson plans, building authentic relationships, and welcoming students into the learning space – whether it be in-person, online, or both – has been such a joy. I think back to my time growing up and fondly remember those who influenced me with their encouraging words, supportive nature, and praise of my efforts. My teachers, Ms. Pendergast, Mrs. Dixon, and Mr. Anderson were just three of many educators that left a lasting impression by showing me how much effort matters. I am grateful to them and to have this incredible opportunity to honor the efforts made by our nation’s teachers.

I am appreciative of the pre-service teachers that are just entering classrooms for the first time.  They bring such joy, hope, and creativity to the field. I have been inspired this past year watching new teachers step into the field while navigating the challenges of virtual job searches and amidst the new challenges facing education during the pandemic. The circumstances in which these educators have trained for has changed dramatically yet new teachers poured their passion into our nation’s classrooms bringing energy in the midst of immense changes to the field. I appreciate the commitment and problem-solving they are bringing to the classroom to help our nation’s students navigate new learning environments and experience academic and social success. These educators study, revise, and apply new learning to continually improve their practice.

Thank goodness for experienced mentor teachers who help usher the next generation through all the trials and tribulations of getting started in the classroom! This year was especially unique as veteran teachers were faced with new challenges of their own. Still, many took on the challenge of supporting new teachers and welcoming them to the field. It’s incredibly important that new teachers have a safe, caring relationship with experienced teachers, but these efforts take time and concerted effort. Experienced teachers work side-by-side helping new educators grow and develop professionally by offering guidance, co-developing lessons, and crafting continual feedback. At the same time, veteran educators seek out new techniques and refine their own practice. In new roles I have taken on, I have valued the people that let me ask questions and were there to support me when I stumbled. It is gratifying to see that these professional relationships often help teachers feel more connected to each other, to their schools, and to the profession.

One of the most amazing things I’ve witnessed this year is the efforts that teachers and school staff have made to personally connect with their students. Morning meetings, daily celebrations, check-ins, and even daily conversation starters about students’ lives have taken on new importance.  I’ve seen new and veteran teachers reach out and forge those special connections with their students and tying their interests into lessons.  I love hearing the connections my own children are making in their classrooms when we have been home together this past year. This special connection between teachers and their students is one I hope we continue to nurture as we return to in-person learning.

Along my life’s journey, I have been blessed to have teachers and faculty who were committed to my success, from preschool through law school. As the daughter of a math teacher and a computer scientist who served as adjunct faculty, both of my parents instilled in me a desire to help craft a better system; one where all families and students feel welcomed and supported the same way I did. I am thrilled to know new and veteran teachers are committed to supporting and learning from one another. Though new teachers and veterans both face unique challenges, they commit to improving their craft collaboratively, putting in time, effort, and attention to ongoing learning for themselves and their students. Our teachers are determined to create a path forward where all children can thrive. It is with deepest appreciation that we honor the work of these teachers, this and every week.

Donna Harris-Aikens is the Senior Advisor for Policy and Planning in the Office of the Secretary.

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A Letter to America’s Teachers

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

I never could predict what might happen in Mr. O’Neil’s art classes; I just knew I couldn’t wait for the next assignment.  Back then I didn’t realize all the ways this dynamic educator, a rare man of color leading our diverse classroom of second graders, was serving as a pioneer and role model for me and my peers in John Barry Elementary School.  But I’ll never forget how his teaching made me feel.  As a second grader, I remember looking up — watching him encourage, challenge and guide us – and thinking: “I want to be like him.”

In the years since embracing that calling and starting my career as a classroom teacher, I’ve kept that sense of purpose and wonder.  And my goal in all the administrative roles I’ve held is to facilitate great teaching and learning: to support and expand the transformative impact that skilled, caring classroom teachers have for students, schools, and communities.

Every day America’s teachers change lives, and every day those lives change the world.

Now, this truth can seem to recede as you rush to keep up with the day’s intense pace, and your students’ needs and opportunities. Yet, from the first bell on the first day of the school year, you build a relationship with each of them. You learn their strengths and struggles, laugh with them, cry with them, worry over them, cheer for them – and at the end of the school year, help them transition to their next grade level adventure. You know all those experiences – both the academic and life lessons – have changed both you and them for the better.  You empower them to grow in skill and character — expand their understanding of the world and how to shape it — explore their interests and decide where to make their mark.

Teaching is not a job anyone just falls into. It is mastery of a craft: in fact, the craft that enables all the others. In my experience, great teachers are also quintessential lifelong learners. You use your command of learning science, your insights into your students’ unique needs and aptitudes, as well as the lessons of the past, the realities of the present and the inspiration, innovation and ingenuity of the future to help each new generation become leaders for today and tomorrow. Throughout the year you support your fellow educators, add to your tools through professional development, provide feedback on assignments, sponsor sports, service learning, clubs and other extracurricular activities, collaborate with parents –in addition to everything you pour into your students during class.

Even in this unprecedented year, you rallied, finding new ways to engage with students. In the face of tragedy, you learned new technologies and built virtual classroom communities, all while caring for yourselves and your own families.  As we heal, recover, and rebuild, this pandemic presents a chance to forge opportunity from crisis and reimagine education on every level. We will use this time to address inequities in our education system, and your contributions will be invaluable.  The work won’t be easy, but the impact of your success will be profound, for students and communities. I urge state, local, and elected officials to make sure classroom teachers have a voice in your plans and efforts to reimagine education; second to parents, they know our students best.

I look forward to learning and listening from you in the days ahead.  And, from all of us at the Department of Education: Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. There’s a reason teacher like Mr. O’Neil – and all of you – are memorable.  There’s a reason student in America’s classrooms watch you share your curiosity, energy and passion for ideas and think, “I want to be like them.”

You are embodiments of possibility, champions of your students’ potential and stewards of their success.

Dr. Miguel A. Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education.

From Sec. Cardona: A Letter to Parents & Students

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

Click here for a copy of this letter in Spanish

To our Nation’s Parents and Students:  

I write first, as your new Secretary of Education, to acknowledge the extraordinarily challenging year you’ve endured. Between the health crisis, economic hardship, staunch national division, and the struggle to make progress in learning while apart from teachers and peers, the impact of the pandemic is still very real and will be felt for years to come.   

And yet, you’ve kept going. As a parent of two who experienced these same concerns and uncertainties, and an educator who has been moved by the resilience of the students and families I’ve met, let me say: you deserve recognition and you have my deepest thanks.   

Brighter days are ahead. We are making progress. More schools across the country are reopening for in-person learning, and they’re doing so with the help of clear, science-based guidance from experts in the field. The Department has released part one of a COVID-19 Handbook to help schools implement guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and we’re working on the second volume. Together, these guides will provide more evidence-based strategies for schools to minimize disruptions caused by school closures, especially for our most vulnerable students and communities and address the impact of COVID-19 on educational opportunity across communities. 

The most pressing challenges we face aren’t new. Since I began teaching more than 20 years ago, opportunity gaps remain. There are still unacceptable disparities in high school graduation rates and higher education is still out of reach for too many students, including learners of color, those from low-income families, and those, as I was, who would be the first in their families to attend.   

These inequities aren’t just holding our children back from achieving their full potential – they’re holding our nation back, too. We all benefit when our children have high-quality opportunities to develop their skills and build their knowledge – and then, share their gifts and talents with the world.  

Our first priority is to return students to the classroom for in-person learning, but we know there’s more work to be done once we’ve achieved that goal. We’re also working toward building better career pathways, making college more affordable, ensuring all students have access to high quality schools with a balance of quality coursework that include the arts and sciences, supporting teacher quality and improving teacher diversity, ensure teachers receive the support and respect they need and deserve, expanding access to high-quality preschool, and supporting high-quality career and technical education.   

President Biden’s plans are bold, but they match the urgency that the challenges before us demand. And as Secretary, I will always keep students and their success at the heart of the Department’s work.  

We know that, given the right support, resources and opportunities, our potential is boundless. Despite our worries as parents, this year we’ve seen new proofs of our children’s ingenuity, optimism, and ability to overcome the toughest of circumstances.   

If we all commit to approaching the remainder of this school year – and the years to come – with this same mindset of possibility, dedication, and innovation, we can and will make good on our promise to America’s students. As an educator and as a parent, I commit to safeguarding and advancing the dreams of your children, as I commit to the dreams of my own son and daughter.  

Our nation’s students deserve – and they will get – our very best efforts, our most collaborative thinking, and our deepest belief in their abilities. Together, we can build a future of promise and opportunity that makes no exceptions.  

Sincerely,   

Secretary Miguel Cardona

Honoring Laura Coria

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Laura Coria

4th Grade Teacher

Ogden, UT

Laura Coria teaches 4th Grade at James Madison Elementary in Ogden, Utah. She obtained her baccalaureate in elementary education from Weber State University  in 1993.  Since then, she has completed 6 specialties, or endorsements:  Reading Level I; Advance Reading Level II; Spanish (minor); Mathematics; English as a Second Language; and STEM. She is currently seeking certifications in Google Apps for Education.  Ms. Coria has spent her entire career working in Title 1 schools in low socioeconomic neighborhoods.  She has taught grades 1st – 5th, ESL adult education as well as elementary age children.  She has been a grade level team leader, steering committee lead, Hispanic Culture Director for her school.  In 2015, Ms. Coria received the “Higher Achievement Award” from Ogden School District, for demonstrating a “Growth Mindset” leading to excellence in achievement.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I love learning and it’s a privilege to work with children.

What do you love about teaching?

What I love most about teaching is making an impact in a child’s life and knowing I am a key tool in creating a future for children of poverty.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I still remember my 6th grade teacher and the impact she made in my life. I am a native of Mexico (now a US citizen), living in poverty myself, I remember how my teacher would tell me that I would be able to accomplish anything I wanted. She told me I had potential and I was a hard worker.

Honoring Eduardo Lopez

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Eduardo Lopez

 High School Social Science Teacher

Los Angeles, CA

Eduardo Lopez was born and raised in a single parent Mexican immigrant household in Los Angeles, California. The unrelenting work ethic instilled by his mother carried him to college. He is a two-time UCLA alumnus, graduating with both a Bachelor of Arts in History, minor in Political Science, and a Masters of Arts in Education. For the past decade he has taught at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School (RHS), located in East Los Angeles. He is a National Board Certified Teacher and Social Science educator. Currently, Mr. Lopez teaches 11th grade A.P. U.S. History, U.S. History, and a 9th-12th grade all male ethnic studies course. Early in his profession, Eduardo realized that in order to have a lasting impact on students he needed to form partnerships that went beyond the four walls of his classroom. He served as a fellow at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, Council of Youth Researchers (CYR) where he worked alongside professors, graduate students, community activists, parents, and students dedicated to addressing educational inequities in schools and communities throughout the city. The CYR created opportunities for youth to develop community-based critical research projects, write research papers, and deliver presentations to audiences of university faculty, community activists, parents, and elected officials, offering them the space to have their powerful voices heard. This passion for transformative education is also evident in his work as an Education Consultant with the Social Justice Learning Institute where he instructs its Urban Scholar Compadres (“brotherhood”) program, a program aimed at increasing the academic and personal success of young men of color at RHS and throughout Los Angeles. In 2014, he was honored by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, as 1 of 25 educators in the Los Angeles Unified School District, to receive the 1st annual Inspirational Teacher award for his dedication to empower young Latino males. Additionally, in 2010, Mr. Lopez was awarded a Fulbright-Hays Study Fellowship to Morocco and in 2012, selected to travel to China as a Freeman Foundation Fellow. Of his many accolades two more worth noting are his interviews given in Spanish for both La Opinión (a Spanish-language Los Angeles daily newspaper) and HispanTV, (a Spanish-language news channel) where Eduardo stressed that as we prepare students to become global citizens we need to acknowledge and applaud the linguistic capital our bilingual youth bring from home as an asset and not a hindrance to our schools and country.

Why do you teach?

  • I teach to inspire and be inspired
  • I teach to foster caring relationships with students and parents
  • I teach to provide a culturally relevant humanizing experience for all students
  • I teach to share in the victories and pains of life alongside my students
  • I teach to work collectively with students to audaciously hope for a better tomorrow
  • Lastly, I teach because this is my calling in life

What do you love about teaching?

I genuinely love being in the classroom with my students. Engaging in meaningful discussions/lessons is key in sustaining lifelong learners.   Every single day presents a new opportunity to serve the youth. The energy and ideas they bring I liken to jazz, where improvisation occurs daily in every class period. This creation of rhythmic knowledge fills both mind and soul and I am an equal with all my students.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I was blessed to have a few inspirational teachers throughout my schooling experience but the one that stands out the most was my high school science teacher, Mr. Limón. As an adolescent developing my identity, I yearned to learn about my Latino heritage and the only educator who found creative ways to incorporate cultural connections to his lessons was Mr. Limón. Gracias to him I became a proud Chicano.

Honoring Rene Muñoz

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Rene Muñoz

Junior High Language Arts Teacher

El Cajon, CA

I would not be here without first acknowledging the support of my mom, abuelita and nina. Although my family and I lived in Tijuana, Mexico, I was born a U.S. citizen and my mom wanted me to go to school in the United States. As a young child, I only spoke Spanish, and no private school would give me a chance. My mom searched high and low for a school willing to give me an opportunity. It was not easy, but she did it! For the next 12 years, we (my mom, abuelita, nina, younger brother and I) woke up every morning at 3AM to cross the border. We would make line for hours at times, but we were never late for school. School mattered!

For better or for worse, I’m going to share with you what has proven to be the secret of my success in the classroom… my degrees are in English and History; I do not have a degree in Education. As a matter of fact, I have never taken an education class… ever. I do feel that a degree in Education has tremendous value, but for over 15 years, I have been a private school teacher, and I have had the freedom to be completely unconventional. Completely! For me, not knowing how I was “supposed to teach” proved to be a big motivation to observe and learn from anyone and everyone, but most importantly, it motivated me to experiment in the classroom.

I had to stop and think about what had actually made me successful in high school, college and now, hopefully, as a teacher. I asked myself: Did knowing the end of “To Kill a Mockingbird” make me successful? Nope! However, what I learned from the conversations that it inspired, did. The work ethic I learned through those assignments, did. I was beginning to figure out what I wanted to teach but how to teach it would be a whole new challenge!

This list of unconventional things to teach combined with a lack of formal training in Education, forced me to try many unconventional approaches. This led me to create a program that has been helping my students get into the top high schools in San Diego County for around 15 years, which is helping to lead them to the top universities in the nation and is now helping make them successful in the “real world.”

The secret to my success is that I do not teach literature and grammar to middle school students. Instead, literature and grammar are the tools I use to teach them what will make them successful in life. I expect them to be creative and imaginative. I expect them to be hard-working, passionate and full of pride. I expect them to do their best in every situation. I expect it every day. Most importantly, I do not teach them these things with fancy projects or the newest technological craze or the newest teaching technique. Actually, I use very few educational materials that are pre-made by a major company. At the end of the day, my class is a bunch of people sitting around, reading some of the greatest authors, discussing their ideas and how they relate to those ideas.

Why do you teach?

There are a million reasons why, but it boils down to the fact that I feel teaching, and helping students, is what I am meant to do.

What do you love about teaching?

Again, a million different things but a big one is seeing the long lasting positive outcome of my work as a teacher. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with 90% Latino students. Latinos that are hard-working, accomplished, positive members of society. I’ve even had 2 former students invited to The White House by the Obama Administration! It’s awesome to see them accomplish great things!!

When you were young, was there a great teacher that inspired you?

A teacher, no. Several teachers, absolutely!

Mr. Ned Wilson– Science teacher, St. Augustine High School: I stole so much from his approach to teaching! He had this way of being this grumpy and cranky yet kooky and lovable teacher that made you work harder to be a better student and person without you realizing it. This person who brought out the absolute best in you through such an unorthodox way;  someone so willing to accept his own faults and eccentricities made it so much easier for his students suffering through the craziness of high school to accept their own. His willingness to just go crazy at football games and basketball games…His willingness to cram 10 of us in a van and take us to a Tony Gwynn Padres game… Supposedly, “just because…”  It took me years to understand the sheer brilliance of it all, because it had all been a brilliantly orchestrated scam to make us better….

Dr. Louis Warren– History professor, University of San Diego: College can be hard. I struggled a lot my first year… A LOT!! Going into my 2nd year, I didn’t think I could do it. Then, I walked into Dr. Warren’s American Civilization II. It was challenging… It was interesting… I could do it. All I needed was confidence. He gave that to me through his class. I took every class he ever taught. They were all brilliant… But, his General Custer lecture is probably the best lecture I ever had the privilege to hear. I would not be the teacher I am without their influence.

Honorable Mention:

~~Mr. John Vignol. Philosophy teacher, St. Augustine High School

~~Dr. Bart Thurber. English professor, University of San Diego

 

Honoring Mario Benabe

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Mario Benabe

High School Math Teacher  

Bronx, NY

Mario Benabe is the founding Math Teacher at the South Bronx Community Charter High School (SBCCHS), a school birthed out of the New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative (YMI) and the Expanded Success Initiative (ESI) School Design Fellowship. Prior to teaching at SBCCHS, Mr. Benabe spent two years as the Special Education, Mathematics Specialist at the Bronx River High School. Mr. Benabe holds a M.S.T in Special Education from Fordham University and a B.A. in Culture and Deviance Studies with cross disciplinary research training in Sociology and Latin America and Latinx Studies from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Throughout his early teaching career, Mr. Benabe has advocated for educational justice for youths of color. At Teach For America’s 25th anniversary summit Mr. Benabe spoke at the #StayWoke: Stop the Violence and Increase Opportunity program to an audience of over 1,200 people at the Walter E. Washington convention Center in D.C.. In 2015, The Entertainment Industry Foundation honored Mr. Benabe as one of three teachers selected nationally to be recognized as the 9/11 Day Teacher. Mr. Benabe has received the Robert Bob Douglass Hall of Fame – John Hunter Community Service Award for his dedication in serving youths through education for the National Association of  Each One Teach One program.

Mr. Benabe is the initiator of “Do-The-Right-Thing Pedagogy”, which frames the importance of examining the ways in which teaching and learning occurs in afrocentric and indigenous populations and using that as a Dialectical Opposites [Do] To Heal Education [The] that invites Reality, Immersion, Good-Hearted Teaching [Right] Through Historical Indigenous/Afrocentric and Native Grounds [Thing]. His role as an educator is to create conditions that allow young people to express their brilliance through their sense of what is vernacular for them so that they  can feel valued within the village of teaching and learning

Why do you Teach?

I teach as a response to a very powerful age-old adage that describes, “if the youth are not initiated to the tribe, they will burn it down in order to feel its warmth”. Often times because of our marriage to ineffective pedagogy, it creates conditions that allow young people to feel as though they are not deeply connected to the village of teaching and learning. I teach because it puts me in a position to heal and create conditions that never run counter to the spirit of young people. I teach because I understand that broken pedagogy cannot teach young people to be whole. Therefore, my work requires me to invest my efforts as an ally to the village of learners, to cultivate a teaching and learning context that is emancipatory, that invest in young people’s perception of self-worth and that builds a pedagogy of joy.

What do you love about teaching?

Prior to teaching I often guided myself to think critically about what brings out my inner peace? I felt this fear that was birthed out of a pain that maybe came from the gospel, that said, “there are many who die but do not rest in peace”. Even with all the roads in place, I stood at the border of  each pathway of opportunity thinking about why is it that life hasn’t allowed for me to fully crossover into my inner peace? It wasn’t until that special moment when I walked into a classroom as an educator for the first time where I felt like I could finally anchor my spirit, define my purpose in life, create a sustainable me, bring out my inner peace and guide young people to an education that is beyond a set of standards. I love teaching and learning because it has allowed for me to teach within a village of learners that celebrates our existing shared cultural capital as a result of me being Latino, having shared history and common experiences, speaking the same languages, and teaching within my direct community in the South Bronx, NY at the South Bronx Community Charter High School, so that when we exchange through transactions within dialogue, authenticity within the relationships shines through.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

Absolutely! In 7th grade, back in 2002, I was blessed with having a math and science teacher who is now one of the nation’s most inspiring educators, Dr. Christopher Emdin. His work on #HipHopEd, Science Genius and Reality Pedagogy is at the intersections of critical pedagogy and culturally relevant pedagogy. I can’t imagine my world without the inspiration he fills within my vessel of passion for teaching and learning. If I could relive any moment within my life repeatedly, it would be that year when I walked into his class. I speak from the deepest parts of my heart with joy and a sense of caring about the value I have for him for guiding me to see that everything that is out there is already within me. I know that when I was most lost in life, he gave me direction. I am forever thankful for him, and his family.

Honoring Karla Gudiño Avila

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Karla Gudiño Avila

High School Math Teacher

Detroit, MI

Karla J. Gudiño Avila was born in Sahuayo, Michoacan, Mexico. At the age of one, her parents brought her to the United States in pursuit of the American dream. They lived in California, worked double shifts to afford the rent, and barely had enough money for food and clothing. In an effort to improve the lives of their children, they eventually moved the family to Detroit, Michigan. They arrived during a snowstorm, did not have warm clothing, and lived in a house without heat or electricity. The family shared one mattress. On top of those conditions, Karla’s father was an abusive alcoholic, who often wasted their money on alcohol. As the oldest child, she assumed the role of a second parent. She wanted to help out economically, but no one would hire her because she was too young. Her parents separated when she was fifteen years old. The family still struggled economically, but there was emotional peace in the home.

Karla knew that the best way to help her mother and siblings was to do well in school, so she could get a good job to help care for the family. After high school, she attended the University of Detroit Mercy. There she earned a Bachelor of Arts and teaching certification in Mathematics, with a minor in Psychology. Her goal was to teach in the community where she lived. She remembers going into the middle school and high schools around the neighborhood to drop off her resume. Since her graduation occurred in December of 2008, she did not anticipate being hired to teach during that school year. To her surprise, a teacher was needed in April of 2009, and she was hired on the spot. Ever since then she has been working at Detroit Cristo Rey High School as a mathematics teacher. She has taught Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and Geometry to freshman, sophomores, and juniors. Detroit Cristo Rey is one of thirty schools around the United States in the innovative Cristo Rey Network. Its students work one day a week to pay their tuition. They train in the summer and have an extended school day and school year.  Karla is proud to be a part of the Cristo Rey Network, where every student lives below the poverty line. In addition to teaching, she is currently working on a Master’s Degree at the University of Detroit Mercy.

Why do you teach?

Since I was a little girl, all I wanted to do was be a teacher. I would pretend I was the teacher and my little brothers were my students. I love mathematics and helping others. Mathematics was the only language that I fully understood. I was able to explain math concepts to my classmates, and they encouraged me to become a math teacher. I know math is not everyone’s favorite or easiest subject. I want my students to enjoy math as much as I do and not be afraid of it. Math has given me a way to support my family and to escape the violence that occurs in Detroit. Most importantly, I love to teach mathematics because I know it is a powerful tool for students. It enables them to think critically, raise their ACT scores, earn scholarships, and attend college.

What do you love about teaching?

What I love about teaching is the feeling that I am making a positive difference in the lives of my students. I get to know many of them and their families. By sharing my experiences with them, they see that it is possible to achieve one’s goals despite the difficulties they face in their daily lives. I push them to do their best and not to quit. I have the privilege of not just teaching subject matter but teaching them about life. I get to see my students grow and become adults. I love when they come back to get college math help or just to talk about how life is going.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I had the privilege of having many great teachers and staff members who inspired, supported, and believed in me. I am grateful to Mr. Grams, Ms. Vega, and other teachers like them, who gave me advice when I needed it, a ride to school, helped me with my studies, or encouraged me with their words of wisdom. They showed me that through hard work and dedication anything is possible. My biggest supporters are my mother, Martha, and my husband, Sergio. They are my number one teachers, who support me on my journey. I hope that I can give to my students what others have given me.

 

Honoring Betzabe Gonzalez

Betsy Gonzalez

Betzabe Gonzalez

Middle School Teacher

Northridge, CA

Ms. Gonzalez grew up in an at-risk area, a small part of Oxnard, California called Colonia. She first became interested in teaching when I was enrolled in Ms. Lisa Villanueva’s world history class. Many from the neighborhood were enrolled in her class, a bunch of young people, like herself, who had been written off by others due to the location of our addresses; but Ms. Villanueva exerted herself, set high expectations for them, believed in them and helped them along the way. She would go out of her way, to talk to them about the situations beyond the classroom that were affecting them in the neighborhood and how they could escape them. Ms. Gonzalez saw the impact Ms. Villanueva made on her peers and herself and she wanted to be just like her, she wanted to make a difference.

While at Cal State University of Northridge (CSUN), Ms. Gonzalez got involved in political and human rights organizations, while she worked as a teacher’s assistant (TA). While she was in the classroom, as a TA, she saw many educational injustices towards at-risk students, who were just like her. This motivated her all the more to follow in Ms. Villanueva’s steps, and become an inspiration that she was to her and so many others.

Ms. Gonzalez has now worked as a teacher for LAUSD for eleven years, and they have zoomed by. Many warned her that after five years she would get burned out, she’s still waiting and expecting that it will never come. She loves what she does, young people are the future of this country and we need to build them up. In her teaching career she has experienced the stress of No Child Left Behind and high stakes testing that are linked to teacher efficiency, but there is more to a student than that.  She ask many former students who are at the university level now, who stay in touch with her, what teachers made the most impact on them and why?  Many of them named teachers who not only looked at their test scores, but also inspired them to do more than they themselves expected to reach. When they speak, she sees herself in them and they inspire her to continue to touch not only the minds but also the hearts of all students.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I want to make a difference in students’ lives, and what better way to do this than to become a part of the life long positive impact.

What do you love about teaching?

I love providing learning experiences to students that go beyond the class room.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?  

I had a teacher in High School, Ms. Lisa Villanueva who inspired me to follow in her foot steps and I attempt to emulate what she did in her class room with my students, to not only cover the curriculum but to create unforgettable learning experiences.

 

 

Honoring José Guadarrama

Jose Guadrrama

José Guadarrama

Elementary School Teacher

New Orleans, LA

José Guadarrama has taught in the Greater New Orleans area for seven years, the last six at FirstLine Schools. José is a founding member of John Dibert Community School, a turnaround school in New Orleans that grew from an F to a B in three years. He contributed to this growth by moving his ELA students 33 points on the School Achievement Index in one year, the highest growth in the FirstLine Schools network and the 92nd percentile of growth statewide. Mr. Guadarrama worked with a small team of FirstLine teachers to develop shared units across four schools. He has lead remediation for fourth grade scholars at FirstLine Schools summer program, has worked as a content leader at Teach For America’s Summer Institute in Los Angeles and was recognized by Teach For America as a distinguished teacher selected to attend the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies.

In addition to Jose’s contributions in the classroom and as a teacher leader, he has mobilized his school community in outreach to a growing number of Spanish-speaking families. José is the exemplar for joyful learning, and builds a community within his classroom that allows students to drive their own development and love of school.

Why do you teach?

Teaching is my way of contributing to the immediate and long term future of my community. I’ve seen kids become more curious about each other and their place in the world because of what we study in class. Fueling students curiosity and ambition is what keeps me in the classroom because it’s different for each student. Year after year I greet a new group of third graders thinking, “I’m going to figure out what makes you tick and use it to help you ask and answer questions about our community, world and your responsibilities and place in it.”

What do you love about teaching?

I love many things about being an educator. Foremost, I love my students. Every year students teach me how to me a more compassionate and loving person while not lowering expectations for excellence. I love that I’ve seen myself grow in the skills and knowledge base that teaching upper elementary demands. I love that my improvement as a teacher has no end, but always has more potential.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

Just the other day I was thinking of Mr. Grey, my fourth grade teacher. He made the mundane magical. School work was never drudgery. Mr. Grey made me feel that the world held curiosities I needed to uncover through joyful discipline.