“If we’re going to solve the problems of the world,” former U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove is credited with saying, “we have to learn how to talk to one another.” The teachers we celebrate here—the recipients of the 2018 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching—work every day creating spaces where students learn how to talk to one another. They model ways to value identity, diversity, justice and action in their classroom instruction and culture, and they’re guided by those values in their work with families, communities and fellow educators.
Awarded biennially, the Award for Excellence in Teaching recognizes five classroom educators who help students develop positive identities, exhibit empathy, consider different perspectives, think critically about injustice and take informed action. Our 2018 nominees were an impressive group, and the winners inspired us with their dedication to—and effectiveness in—creating spaces, curricula and communities where all students can thrive.
Because their exemplary practices and professional accomplishments are too numerous to list, here’s just a small sampling of the work that each of these exceptional teachers is doing every day.
Teaching students at William Howard Taft High School to recognize and fight systemic inequality
“Teaching ethnic studies is so important, so vital in our society right now,” Mayra Almaraz explains. “People want to be in these conversations.” In her 11th- and 12th-grade Latin American history and ethnic studies classes, Almaraz encourages her students to look at systems “to understand why there’s inequality, why there’s discrimination, why some of us have more privileges than others.” To support students as they work to answer these questions, she established the Issues to Action Social Justice Club. Members work on projects educating, advocating and protesting to address problems they’ve studied in class.
In the club, as in her classes, Almaraz’s students examine their own experiences and learn about the experiences of others. This is one of the goals around which she’s built her curriculum and her classroom’s culture. “I think something powerful happens when you hear different stories,” she says. “Reconciliation begins with truth.”
And her students say…
“I learned from Miss Almaraz that in order to create change, you have to analyze the root problems of an issue.”