Investing in Latino Teachers Is What Teacher Appreciation Truly Looks Like

By Carla Rivera-Cruz, Director of Alumni and Network Engagement

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Teachers are some of the most important people we encounter in our lifetimes. They help us make sense of the world around us, expose us to knowledge, and encourage us to get curious. And some leave a mark on our lives that we carry forever.  For me, it was my High School Spanish teacher, Mrs. (“Misi”) Pabón, who had the unique ability to make her classroom feel like home, especially for those of us from a Latino household. It’s not lost on me that she was also one of only 2 Latina educators during my entire education career. This crystalizes to me that the work we are doing at Latinos for Education to increase the number of Latino educators is life-changing work.

That is why on Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to thank all the Latino educators that have answered the calling of teaching and unequivocally declare that the best way to support teachers is to invest in them.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some extraordinary teachers through our Latinx Teachers Fellowship that exemplify the many ways that Latino teachers are shaping the future of education and simultaneously changing the lives of students. While I could sing the praises of all our alumni, I would like to recognize three educators that embody the spirit of the fellowship: Aury Zemla, Sofia Gonzalez, and Dr. Alejandra Ortiz. 

Aurydemis ZemlaAury embodies what it means to be a selfless leader, she is not only focused on her own professional growth but the growth of other educators. Zemla created the socio-emotional curriculum her school adopted and trains teachers on how to deploy this curriculum; and she also mentors teachers on how to serve dual language learners. With the success of her curriculum, Aury started her own website, La Escuelita de Miss Zemla, to get more resources into the hands of educators wanting a robust curriculum for their dual language learners.

Sofia GonzalezSofia is a national force, so much so that she received the Teacher of the Year Award in 2019 from the National Society of High School Scholars. In honor of her first classroom, Mrs. Gonzalez founded Project 214, a nonprofit organization that promotes the benefits of global education and connects marginalized communities with resources to improve the education available to local communities. She supports teachers of color by being a  Virtual Instructional Coach for 1st year teachers, and a Founding Mentor Director for Edifying Teachers. 

Alejandra OrtizDr. Alejandra Ortiz is also making strides in and out of the classroom. As the STEM coordinator at her middle school, Dr. Ortiz has been helping students at her school tap into the power of coding as a way to build their academic confidence and her robotics club went on to win first place at the NASA robotics competition. Dr. Ortiz was recently named as a middle school finalist teacher of the year by Houston ISD and was also selected as Teacher of the Year for her school, Burbank Middle School.

These women are just a few of the many teachers that are leading con ganas and we are proud that part of the work we do includes bringing these powerful educators together in fellowship to learn, grow, and continue their commitment to education. At Latinos for Education, teacher appreciation is not just a weeklong celebration, but rather a long-term commitment. We are always looking for ways to let Latino educators know that we are here for them and want to support them in every aspect of their teaching journey. Here are three concrete commitments that we want current and future educators to be aware of:

  1. Latinx Teacher Fellowship. We will continue supporting Latino educators that want to grow within the profession, step into leadership roles, and build a community with other Latino teachers across the country. The pandemic has not been easy for teachers, and this fellowship program aims to help Latino teachers realize that they are not alone, and they can rise as a collective and become the best teacher leaders they can be. Just look at the three teachers we highlighted above. 
  2. EdCentro. We have a consistent, monthly calendar of events on EdCentro that are free for Latinx educators to come together to learn and network.
  3. Continued Support. As the very first Director of Alumni and Network Engagement at Latinos for Education, I am committed to creating opportunities for program alumni to accelerate their careers through one on one support and strategic partnerships. If you are an alum, please feel free to reach out to schedule a time to connect with me and learn about the resources and opportunities available to you in the 2022-23 academic year.

And for teachers that want to practice some self-care during this time, we’ve collected a few resources for you because we want to honor and support you in all aspects of your profession. Keep doing the life-changing work you’ve been engaging in!

BIPOC Mental Health Provider Directories

General Mental Health

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Carla Rivera-Cruz is the Director of Alumni and Network Engagement at Latinos for Education. She has dedicated her entire career to supporting students and teachers in the K-16 ecosystem as a teacher, instructional coach, external consultant, and elected school governing board member. She earned her BS in Psychology from the University of Florida and MS in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Central Florida, graduating with honors from both institutions. She is also a Teach For America alumna (D.C. Region, 2011). Her professional interests are in the areas of professional development, strategic planning, measuring what matters, and systems thinking.