This Bilingual Educator & First-Generation Colombian Immigrant Was Named 2021 National Teacher of the Year

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
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Juliana Urtubey, a first-generation immigrant from Colombia, has been named 2021 National Teacher of the Year. She is the first Latina to receive the distinction since 2005 and the first teacher from Nevada ever to win the award.

Urtubey is a bilingual elementary special education teacher at Booker Elementary School in Las Vegas. She is a National Board-certified instructor who co-teaches students from pre-kindergarten through 5th grade. Urtubey also serves as an instructional strategist where she supports the academic, emotional, and behavioral needs of her students.

“I feel very proud to be able to represent our community and to be a good example to our children at our school,” Utubey told Telemundo.

At school, Utubey is known as Ms. Earth because she has raised tens of thousands of dollars in grants to enhance her campus with gardens and murals.

“Juliana Urtubey exemplifies the dedication, creativity and heart teachers bring to their students and communities,” the Council of Chief State School Officers CEO Carissa Moffat Miller told NBC News.

Last week, First Lady Jill Biden surprised Urtubey with a visit to her classroom. She brought flowers to the National Teacher of the Year. “She is just the epitome of a great teacher, a great educator,” Biden says.

Utubey says being a special education teacher has shaped her teaching philosophy and has helped her realize how important family engagement is for the students she teaches.

“I have seen my students with thinking and learning differences accomplish amazing things in terms of managing their emotions, getting along with others, solving and managing conflict,” she told Education Week. “I’ve seen my students be resilient and have grit and be able to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. It’s just such an honor to be able to amplify their brilliance.”

One of her former students added: “She was a good leader, and she would just teach us things in a different way that other people wouldn’t.”