Jeanne Croteau

This year’s People of the Year includes leaders who have changed the world for the better. Along with trailblazing celebrities Dolly Parton, Sandra Oh, and Simone Biles, People magazine celebrated our nation’s teachers. We’ve all been through so much over the past two years, so being recognized for all the ways we try to make a difference feels good. (Although we’d take a pay increase, better work-life boundaries, and more support from families and administrators, too.)

Recognizing the resiliency of teachers

Whether we’re battling it out in the classroom or virtually, we know that these past two years are like nothing we’ve ever experienced before—and things continue to evolve.

In their feature, People put a spotlight on the challenges teachers have faced. We’ve all had to adapt to the challenges and roll with the punches like never before. The remarkable educators in every corner of every state have had to find ways to get to know kids and keep them engaged, sometimes at a distance. We’ve faced tough losses and devastating lows, but through it all, we’ve continued to show up for our students.

So much has been put on teachers’ plates

People magazine chose National Teacher of the Year, Juliana Urtubey, as the face of the more than three million educators in this country. Several other teachers were profiled and shared sweet and innovative ways they stayed connected with students amid “constantly shifting safety protocols, heated debates about curricula and nationwide staffing shortages.”

Urtubey, a special education teacher for pre-K through fifth grade, is the first Nevada teacher to be named the National Teacher of the Year. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden personally visited Urtubey’s classroom to deliver the news. The inspiring educator credits children as “the ones who reminded us, this is why we’re doing this, this is where the hope is.” She shared a message that most of us can certainly relate to.

When preschool and kindergarten students were allowed to return to school, Urtubey says they taught her a valuable lesson. “They just marched through the hallways with backpacks they hadn’t worn in a year and with their masks with so much bravery that I realized if they could be this strong, we could too,” she shares. “The challenge has been this balance that teachers are charged to sustain: the academic learning and social and emotional development of each child, and this sense of collective wellness. It’s both beautiful and heartbreaking to see how much has been put on teachers’ plates.”

Teachers always find a way

Along with Urutbey, People recognized National Teacher of the Year finalists John Arthur, Alejandro Diasgranados, and Maureen Stover. Each shared their own experiences with keeping kids engaged through Zoom all day. Here are some highlights:

“Because I was teaching Earth science and we were talking about ecosystems and photosynthesis, I started teaching from my garden and sent them all seeds. Then we were able to interact together about how their seeds were growing compared to what was growing in my garden. When they came back to face-to-face instruction, we then added to that and started planting seeds in the classroom.” —Maureen Stover.

“So one thing that I wanted to continue was experiential learning opportunities. That’s challenging through a virtual setting, but I worked around it. I started to visit museums myself and take pictures. One day I walked around the museum with my laptop and allowed students to see where we would have gone if we were in-person. You’d be surprised—they were just as excited.” —Alejandro Diasgranados.

“I [used to] teach emotional learning in the past tense…This past year and a half, it’s all been present tense—’Guys, right now I am hurting. I’m at my limit. On the grunt meter, I’m up here right near red.’ Or, ‘I’m a little bit salty that you guys keep turning off those cameras. I’m also a little bit bugged that you beat me in Among Us because you were supposed to take it easier on me.’ There were all these opportunities to show how we address hard feelings as people, because we were all leveled by this pandemic. At the same time, I could model how you can bring humor and joy into hard situations.” —John Arthur.

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