In her address to NEA’s 2021 Virtual Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly, Teacher of the Year Juliana Urtubey asked delegates to think of a school day from a child’s shoes.
“From the time they put on those shoes before coming to school, to the time they take off those shoes once they get home, think of all the adults that child interacts with directly and indirectly to make their education possible,” said Urtubey, an instructional strategist and co-teacher in pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms at Kermit R. Booker, Sr. Innovative Elementary School in Las Vegas.
“It takes a village to be able to make sure that a child is well taken care of and loved, feels seen, and is encouraged to be their very best.”
Collaboration is Key
The collaborative nature of the work educators do is the key ingredient in a child’s education that enables them to thrive, Urtubey told delegates, acknowledging all of the people who work to build a better future for children, their families, and their communities.
Urtubey also acknowledged the collective resilience of educators and how the support of families helped them succeed.
“It has been a very difficult year and a half and through the COVID-19 pandemic, and one things I have learned is that family partnerships are indispensable to a thriving community,” she said.
With strong family partnerships, Urtubey said, students can be themselves at school.
“If I as a teacher know who their family is, if they appreciate the time and the trust that I have built with their family, a child is most likely going to entrust their learning and emotional safety with me,” she said. “The resilience that we’ve built through partnering with families is only possible through our interdependence in school.”
When she thinks of interdependence, Urtubey thinks about all the adults that that inspire her on her school campus, like Lasandra, her custodian who ensures the school is sparkling because she knows that for some students, it the only time they spend in a completely clean environment.
She thinks of Jacquie, their cafeteria worker who ensures that every child not only has a warm meal but has their favorite milk to go with that warm meal.
She thinks about Miss Kenya in the front office who knows where every family lives in the community and who all the families know and trust.
“I think about all my fellow teachers, administrators, and the critical people within education who help build a better future,” she said.
She also thinks about how brave her students have been during this last year.
In February when their school physically opened its doors and welcomed back students back, she was standing at the end of a very long hallway and will never forget seeing the students walking in, each of them six feet apart.
“They looked so brave with their masks and their backpacks on and I just got chills because I realized -- this is what it means to be a part of a school,” she told delegates. “Being a part of a school is what the children are waiting for at the other end of the hallway, for their opportunity to learn and grow with their peers, to connect with their community, and I couldn’t have been more proud to be an educator than on that day.”
Joyous and Just Education
Urtubey told the delegates that she is calling her platform as 2021 Teacher of the Year, “A Joyous and Just Education.”
“I believe a joyous and just education should be something that every child experiences; a joyous and just education is a collective community embrace,” she said.
Joyous, she said, means that all students have a deep sense of belonging in their schools because the schools know who they are and the entire school community uplifts their strengths, culture, gifts, interests and interdependence on each other.
Just, she said, means that educators are all working collectively to identify areas of inequities and barriers of access and are working creatively to make public schools better places to learn and where education can transform people’s lives.
She closed by thanking the delegates of the 2021 Representative Assembly for their work to set the path forward for educators across the country.
“Thank you for your resilience, and thank you for your collective collaboration in building bridges from schools to communities and from schools to families,” she said. “I hope that 2021 is the year of a joyous and just education for all.”