Photo via JulianaUrtubey3/Twitter

The coronavirus pandemic had challenged parents, students, and teachers in new ways that no one could even predict. But despite these challenges, many teachers have stepped up to the plate and have gone above-any-beyond to make sure their students get the best education ever. One of those teachers is Juliana Urtubey, the Las Vegas special education teacher who is the 2021 National Teacher of the Year.

Juliana Urtubey is the first Latino recipient of the National Teacher of the Year award since 2005.

The Council of Chief State School Officers chose Juliana Urtubey because she creates flexible curriculums in order to address each of her individual student’s needs. “Juliana Urtubey exemplifies the dedication, creativity and heart teachers bring to their students and communities,” said CEO of the Council of Chief State School Officers, Carissa Moffat Miller.

Urtubey holds a Bachelor’s and Masters degree in bilingual elementary education from the University of Arizona. She says she was attracted to teaching because “knew that I could be the kind of teacher that would just take it step by step, have a whole lot of celebration for kids, particularly kids with thinking and learning differences and really just make learning fun.”

Born in Colombia, Urtubey knows the importance of bilingual education for young students.

Urtubey herself went to a bilingual education magnet school before being moving to an area without a similar school. She says the experience made her realize how important it is for educators to think of their students’ background, culture, and identity.

Juliana Urtubey uses the Crestwood Elementary School’s community garden to teach her students. Urtubey started the community garden herself seven years ago, and since then, it has flourished into a vibrant outdoor classroom. Her students even formed a garden club called “Gnomies”. At her school, Ms. Urtubey is affectionately known as “Ms. Earth”.

In a special surprise, First Lady and fellow educator Dr. Jill Biden surprised Ms. Urtubey with a bouquet of flowers during her interview with CBS.

Ms. Urtubey was visibly shocked at the surprise visit, looking like she couldn’t believe that First Lady Biden was there. “Look at Juliana — I mean, she is just the epitome of a great teacher, a great educator,” said Dr. Biden. Urtubey, who has called Dr. Biden one of her “heroes” in the past, was equally honored to meet the First Lady.

Ms. Urtubey has these words of wisdom for what it means to be a great teacher: “It’s about connecting and making relationships. I’m advocating for students to have a joyous and just education, where they experience joy in every part of their school.”