Skip to content

Spotlighting Teachers of Color During Teacher Appreciation Week

Spotlighting Teachers of Color During Teacher Appreciation Week

Teachers of color have an immeasurable, positive impact on the academic, social-emotional, and behavioral wellbeing of young people. 

Continuing to grow, invest in, and deeply support BIPOC-identifying educators to diversify our workforce is critical in supporting underserved students in seeing reflections of themselves and their culture and identity in school spaces.  

This National Teacher Appreciation Week, we share our gratitude for the educators who lend a part of themselves, are champions of students at every stage of their lives, affirm the cultural backgrounds of young people, foster lasting relationships in the classroom, empower agency within students, and so much more. 

Thank you for the wellspring of change that you help cultivate in the classroom, our students, and our communities.

We sat down with NTC staff to learn about the educators of color who have influenced their lives and the trajectory of thousands of students.

Fe Ortiz-Licon

Fe Ortiz-Licon,
Chief of Staff

Who is one educator of color that has stood out to you in your life?

I would say that Mr. Roberto Licon, who’s a fifth-grade teacher at Jenny Oropeza in Long Beach Unified, is one such teacher that comes to mind.

He has been serving the field of education for 25 years. He started teaching at the young age of 23 in downtown Long Beach, which is where he grew up. And he promptly fell in love with the profession because every one of the students that enter his classroom was a reflection of who he was as a child.

What do they do differently as an educator?

In his teaching style, there are things that he’s very intentional about. One of them is learning [deeply about] each one of his students. He makes it a point to understand what are their interests, what do they care for, what drives them, so that when he’s teaching, when he’s actually taking those standards and that content and curriculum, he’s very intentional about aligning it to something that’s going to interest the students. He’s a strong believer in relationship building. He cares for his students and he’s not afraid to show emotion.

I think that Roberto also shows his students that you could be a Latino, you could be highly educated — you could be from this community. You could come from very cultural traditions that say that this is not what a man does. But he debunks so many of those stereotypes in the best way, and shows the students that he cares enough for them, that he cares about their educational outcomes, but also their social-emotional wellbeing, and that who they are will be affirmed in his classroom.

How would you like to appreciate them?

Mr. Roberto Licon, congratulations on your 25th year of service to Long Beach Unified. Your contributions and service to the community have been invaluable to generations of students. I appreciate the way that you bring your authentic self to the classroom, that you bring your cultural assets and respect the cultural assets of students, that you’re always willing to look deeper to marry instructional quality and instructional practices with the lived experiences, the cultural assets, and the linguistic assets that your students bring. You understand that teaching is more than just depositing instructional practices into students. You are there to cultivate the minds of students and to ensure that they have the long-term success that education can do for students because it’s transformative. You’re not only a great ambassador of the education field, but you’re an excellent educator and excellent human being, and an excellent Latino male model. Thank you.

Watch Fe’s Teacher Appreciation Week video here.

Martine Robinson

 

Martine Robinson,
Sr. Director, Talent Acquisition & Onboarding

Who is one educator of color that has stood out to you in your life?

My mom taught for 32 years as a second-grade teacher in my hometown.

And so growing up I had this great experience of always being Miss Reese’s daughter, yet also seeing my mother impart her wisdom and joy into her students. It’s really amazing to see the influence that she’s had on the people in our town and that she continues to have because they love and respect her. People will stop her to say, “Hey Ms. Reese, how are you? Do you remember my name?” And she remembers everybody’s name. It’s so amazing. So she and her friends influenced me to then go into education once I graduated high school. And it was the path I took.

What is one thing you’ve held with you from their teaching style?

I took that spirit with me as I became a teacher to really think about how can I impact the students that I teach on a day-to-day basis. So it’s a lifelong connection versus just me giving them information. How am I influencing them? How will my time with them then impact [students] in a way where they know they can always come back to me. If I see you in the store, you’re still my student, right? So those are the ways that she’s impacted me and it’s influenced me to be in this space that I’m in now.

What did they do differently as an educator?

I think it’s this aspect of I’m not just teaching you… I’m an extension of your family. Which kind of ties into [the connection] because I know your name, I know all of your aunts, I know your grandmother, I know what church you go to kind of thing. And people still to this day, 40 years later still feel comfortable coming up to her, giving her a hug. And then, you know, they [in that moment] turn back into the second grader that they were many, many years ago.

How would you like to appreciate them?

Thank you, Mary Reese, for teaching the Thompson community at large and making sure that the community is an extension of your family and not just you being their teacher. You have been a lifelong part of generations of students in Thompson and continue to be.

Watch Martine’s Teacher Appreciation Week video here.

Kundaja Green

 

Kundaja Green,
Technology Enablement Specialist

Who is one educator of color that has stood out to you in your life?

The educator that has had a profound impact on the trajectory of my life is Dr. Rogers Salters.

He was an engineering professor at the University of Denver. And he also served as my and a lot of other students of colors’ Jegna or mentor.

What did they do differently as an educator?

Dr. Salters, from the very beginning, was always extremely encouraging, going out of his way to help us as Black students bridge the gap and be able to stay and maintain at the university. He would talk to us [long] after office hours about making sure that we were prepared as academic students and preparing us for life navigating some of the hurdles that we had as young African-American students.

What was their greatest impact on you?

Dr. Salters, among a few other things, helped me solidify my commitment to wanting to give back and to help my community and my people.

What is one thing you’ve taken away from their teaching style?

One of the things I like to say that I got from him is I’m an encourager of big ideas and crazy dreams. That’s one of the things I got from him, because that’s what he was. Whatever we wanted to do, whatever we tried to do, he would encourage it. He would try to find a way to help us and help push us to be our better selves and I’m always thankful and grateful to him for the openness of his spirit.

View Kundaja’s Teacher Appreciation Week video here.

Alexis Pena Tomasetti

 

Alexis Pena Tomasetti,
Project Manager, Legal & Strategic Advocacy

Who is one educator of color that has stood out to you in your life?

The teacher that really impacted me and who I think about often was named Mr. Navarez and he was Latino.

And what I remember about him, still to this day, is his kindness. I think that a lot of times as a person of color in higher ed spaces or in education spaces or professional spaces, we’re oftentimes tokenized. And oftentimes that means we’re competing against each other and we have to be cutthroat in these spaces to achieve those spots. And I think what he showed me through his kindness was that we can maintain that humanity of ours. We can maintain that kindness, in our lives and in these professional spaces, regardless of the boundaries and the things that try to keep us out.

What did they do differently as an educator?

I remember him offering me help very often and showing me that you can’t be comfortable and grow at the same time. I think that him saying that really pushed me forward to want to achieve things outside of my comfort zone and push me into the spaces that I didn’t really think that I deserved to be in. I continue that even to this day, because I think people of color oftentimes suffer from imposter syndrome.

What is something you carry with you from their classroom?

I really put kindness at the forefront and recognize that it’s not a competition between me and the other Latina in the room and it shouldn’t be. And that I can still maintain my humanity in these professional spaces.

How would you like to appreciate them?

I just want to thank Mr. Navarez for his kindness, and for showing me that as a Latina, I can be empowered and can enter into those spaces not competing against anyone, but really just feeling free to take those opportunities, not as an imposter, but as a person who’s deserving of those opportunities and the spots and those spaces. Thank you, Mr. Navarez.

View Alexis’s Teacher Appreciation Week video here.

Victoria Hom

 

Victoria Hom,
Director, Partnerships and Development

Who is one educator of color that has stood out to you in your life?

When I think about an educator of color who’s had an influence on me as well as my children, I immediately think about Jackie Arnold, who teaches at the Gardner Pilot Academy.

Both my older son as well as my younger daughter have had her as a math teacher. Growing up, I had many wonderful teachers, but not a lot of educators of color. So I have been really pleased that in their school they’ve had a lot more exposure than I have had.

What did they do differently as an educator?

Mrs. Arnold would do things like, at the start of the class as everybody was entering, just display these videos about Asian American culture and heritage or about different kinds of cultures and famous Asian American people. And those were things that I never really experienced myself as a student in school. It always felt like being Asian American or the Asian side of my heritage was somehow separated from the school experience. So it’s really meant a lot to me to know that my children, through this teacher, were able to have that experience of having their whole selves be reflected in school and their classrooms.

How are you shifting your practice to know and understand your students more deeply?

I’ve been working to connect with students’ families to create a bridge from the classroom to the home. The positive feedback environment we create in school becomes even more powerful when caregivers and parents amplify it. Even with the challenges of scheduling time with parents — so many have to work and can’t meet during designated hours — I’ll still send messages to them via whatever means we have available. You can sense the impact on students when they go from hearing affirmation from classmates or me and then hear at home: “You’ve been working hard, are making progress and should be proud of your effort.” I see it when students read for their parents. They get to show firsthand what they’re learning during a special dedicated time, and it only enhances how they experience learning at school.

How are you shifting your practice to know and understand your students more deeply?

Mrs. Arnold, thank you so much for being such a wonderful math teacher, and for being a wonderful homeroom teacher to both of my children. Thank you for helping them recognize their whole selves as part of their educational journey with you. That really meant a lot to me even if they might not recognize it just yet.

View Victoria’s Teacher Appreciation Week video here.

Filed under: News

Vivian Nnachetam
Contact NTC

Contact NTC

Interested in learning more? Send us a line and we'll be sure to help.

Related News

February 6, 2024

Blog News

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Instructional Coaching for Optimal Learning Whitepaper

For 25 years, New Teacher Center has focused on getting better at what we do. Our reputation is built on giving educators access to career-shaping coaches and mentors — high-trust relationships that lead to deep, personal, affirming, and reflective learning experiences. The goal is that teachers can, in turn, model these same practices and ways of being in their classrooms with their students.

January 23, 2024

News Press Release

New Teacher Center Announces Departure of Chief Program Officer Atyani Howard

December 11, 2023

Blog News

One Year In… Reflections from CEO Tommy Chang

Over the past year, it has been a rewarding journey as I assumed the CEO role at the New Teacher Center (NTC). As a lifetime educator, NTC’s mission to disrupt the predictability of educational inequities through accelerating educator effectiveness spoke to me and my story. I want to share a few insights and reflections from my first year at the helm of this dynamic organization.