Teacher Dolores Huerta: The Champion of the Migrant Farmworker

thLike many people who have heard of farm labor leader and civil rights advocate Cesar Chavez, I have also heard of his right-hand woman, Dolores Huerta, vice president of the United Farm Workers Union. But did you know that she was also an elementary school teacher?

Raised in Stockton, California, Dolores graduated in 1955 with an AA and her teaching credentials from the College of the Pacific. After graduation, she accepted a teaching position in a rural Stockton elementary school. She had been teaching for only a short time when she realized she wanted to devote her talent and energy to migrant farm workers and their families. “I couldn’t stand seeing farm worker children come to class hungry and in need of shoes,” she once explained. “I thought I could do more by organizing their parents than by trying to teach their hungry children.” After one year, she resigned from her teaching position, determined to launch a campaign that would fight the numerous economic injustices faced by migrant agricultural workers.

Joining forces with the legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez, Dolores organized a large-scale strike against the commercial grape growers of the San Joaquin Valley, an effort which raised national awareness of the abysmal treatment of America’s agricultural workers, and she negotiated the contracts which led to their improved working conditions. The rest, as they say, is history.

Although there are several fairly good juvenile biographies of this extraordinary woman, there is no definitive adult biography about her. The closest thing to it is A Dolores Huerta Reader edited by Mario T. Garcia. This book includes an informative biographical introduction by the editor, articles and book excerpts written about Dolores, her own writings and transcripts of her speeches, and a recent interview with Mario Garcia. You can find A Dolores Huerta Reader on amazon.com I have also included a chapter about this remarkable teacher in my second book, Chalkboard Heroes: Twelve courageous Teachers and their Deeds of Valor.

Educators Are Well Represented by Shanna Peeples, the 2015 National Teacher of the Year

412553_img650x420_img650x420_cropOne of the most inspirational chalkboard champions I have learned about recently is Shanna Peeples, a high school English teacher from Amarillo, Texas. Shanna was honored this Wednesday by President Obama as the 2015 National Teacher of the Year.

Shanna, who teaches at Palo Duro High School, is the first educator from the state of Texas to earn the national honor since 1957. The prestigious award was given to her in recognition for her dedication and service to immigrant students, primarily refugees from East Africa, many of whom came to Texas after spending time in Kakuma, a camp established in Kenya for displaced persons. Available jobs in feedlots and slaughterhouses attracted these refugee families to Amarillo.

Palo Duro Principal Sandy Whitlow says Shanna is a lifelong learner who inspires her students and colleagues. “Shanna can tailor instruction to the needs of her students, whether she is working with refugees who have suffered traumatic events in their lives, or AP students who crave challenging curriculum, or at-risk students who are attending school in the evenings to recover lost credits,” describes Whitlow. “The bottom line is that her students know she truly cares about them, and she will invest every ounce of energy in helping them attain their goals.”

Shanna teaches AP English and English III, and she serves as the English department chair. She also serves as an instructional coach for other teachers. Not only does Shanna teach her regular day classes, but she also instructs an evening credit recovery program for pregnant teens and young people just released from juvenile detention. Shanna says the most important thing she does as an educator is to make every one of her students feel valued. “That’s what we all need,” she says. “We need kindness. We need understanding, and we need a sense of belonging. Kindness is probably my first and best lesson.”

After President Obama presented the crystal apple award to the Lone Star educator, he recognized fifty-four other deserving chalkboard champions from around the country. “I think what it takes to make a great teacher is somebody who just loves what they do, who loves kids and who loves to bring out the potential in every kid,” Shanna expressed at the Rose Garden ceremony.

She represents all of us in the profession very well indeed.

Julia Richman: The Chalkboard Champion of Eastern European Immigrants

richman[1]Julia Richman was a truly remarkable educator of the late 1800s. The daughter of Jewish immigrant parents, Julia declared at a surprisingly early age that she would reject the traditional role of wife and mother and opt for a career in teaching instead. At 15, she enrolled in college courses at New York City’s Female Normal College, the precursor to Hunter College, graduating fourth in her class in 1872. She then devoted the next forty years of her life to teaching and improving the lives of the Jewish immigrant students who were entrusted to her care, first as their teacher, later as a principal, and finally as a district superintendent.

During her tenure, Julia Richman pioneered innovative programs for handicapped students, English-language learners, and troubled youth. She instituted vocational education programs and much-needed courses in health and hygiene. Many of her innovations are common practice in schools throughout the country today. In addition to her work in the schools, Julia worked indefatigably to better the lives of New York’s Eastern European immigrants through the Educational Alliance, the most important Jewish charitable organization located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

A wonderful book about Julia Richman was recently published by scholar Selma Cantor Berrol; the book is entitled Julia Richman: A Notable Woman. You can find this book on the web site for Barnes and Noble and also on amazon.com. I have also devoted a chapter of my book, Chalkboard Champions, to this most extraordinary educator. My book can be found at amazon.com at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Chalkboard-Champions.

Julia Richman: The Chalkboard Champion of Eastern European Immigrants

richman[1]Julia Richman was a truly remarkable educator of the late 1800s. The daughter of Jewish immigrant parents, Julia declared at a surprisingly early age that she would reject the traditional role of wife and mother and opt for a career in teaching instead. At 15, she enrolled in college courses at New York City’s Female Normal College, the precursor to Hunter College, graduating fourth in her class in 1872. She then devoted the next forty years of her life to teaching and improving the lives of the Jewish immigrant students who were entrusted to her care, first as their teacher, later as a principal, and finally as a district superintendent.

During her tenure, Julia Richman pioneered innovative programs for handicapped students, English-language learners, and troubled youth, and she instituted vocational education programs, and much-needed courses in health and hygiene. Many of her innovations are common practice in schools throughout the country today. In addition to her work in the schools, Julia worked indefatigably to better the lives of New York’s Eastern European immigrants through the Educational Alliance, the most important Jewish charitable organization located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

A wonderful book about Julia Richman was recently published by scholar Selma Cantor Berrol; the book is entitled Julia Richman: A Notable Woman. You can find this book on the web site for Barnes and Noble and also on amazon.com. I have also devoted a chapter of my book, Chalkboard Champions, to this most extraordinary educator. My book can be found at amazon.com at the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Chalkboard-Champions.

Eve Kristine Vetulani Balfour: The Chalkboard Champion Who Was Once Imprisoned by the Nazis

vetulani_1[1]One indisputable chalkboard champion is Eve Kristine Vetulani Balfour. Born a Catholic in Krakow, Poland, this remarkable educator came from a family that abhorred the Nazi regime. The Vetulanis adopted a Jewish woman during WWII, thereby saving her from the Nazis. Eve Kristine did not escape their clutches, however. In 1942, during the German occupation of Poland, she was forced to work in Nazi slave labor camps. Her knowledge of languages saved her life during World War II because she was more valuable to the Germans as a translator than a slave laborer. Fortunately, she was liberated by the Allies in 1945 from a camp in Nordhausen, the site of the construction of V-1 and V-2 rockets.

After the war, Eve Kristine worked as a translator for US Army intelligence while she attended Frankfurt University in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1950, she immigrated to the United States as a displaced person. Upon her arrival, she first enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. After moving to Maryland, she graduated from Frostburg State Teachers College, Maryland, in 1962, and earned her master’s degree in French from Middlebury College, Vermont, in 1966.

For over twenty-five years Eve Kristine worked as an instructor of French, German, and Spanish at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland. She retired from the teaching profession in 1988. Able to speak Polish, Russian, German, Spanish, French, and Italian, Eve Kristine translated historical documents for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, after her retirement. She also worked for the Red Cross at their Tracing Bureau, assisting efforts to reunite Holocaust survivors with their families.

Eve Kristine passed away in 2004 at the age of 79, but she will always be remembered as a true chalkboard champion.