Educators of Impact: Heroic Actions during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Heather Lattimer, EdD is the Dean of the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San Jose State University. With the COVID-19 crisis making the crucial role that educators play in our society abundantly clear, Lurie College launched its Educators of Impact initiative to recognize educators for making a transformative difference in the lives of children, families, and communities.

The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare many of the inequities embedded in all of our systems, including the education system, where we’ve seen disparities in funding, access to technology and the delivery of social services come to light. We’ve seen school closures impact access to nutrition and healthcare services for millions of children and families across the country.

At the same time, the pandemic has illustrated so clearly the critical role that educators play in our society. In the past few months, we have seen their commitment to their students and their ability to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. At the beginning of the pandemic, as the news became more alarming and businesses began to shut down face-to-face interactions, our teachers—and student teachers—showed up every day for their students.  Then when schools worked to quickly close down in response to shelter-in-place orders, our educators pivoted. With very short notice and limited support, teachers moved their class plans online.

Around the world, we have seen educators’ responsiveness, concern, and deep sense of commitment to the children and families in their care. Teachers have sent messages and made phone calls to check in with students individually. They’ve sent care packages, organized birthday drive-by parades, and reached out to find resources to help children in need.  One of our student teachers, for example, noticed that one of the kindergarten children in her class wasn’t participating in the online class activities she’d organized.  She investigated and learned that the child was living at a homeless shelter without internet access. The student teacher reached out to her professors, her principal, the school board, and community partners. Within 24 hours, the student’s family received a new device, internet access for three months, additional food and clothing, and diapers for a younger sibling. Educators are stepping up and leaning into this work in order to rally around their students, even as they worry about their own families, face financial uncertainty, and juggle new responsibilities at home.

These acts are certainly heroic. However, those of us in the education field also know that these are the everyday stories of teachers. Educators are simply acting as educators have for generations. Educators are everyday heroes who need to be recognized for the vital role they play in caring for children, lifting up families, and knitting together our society.   For this reason, we decided to start the Educators of Impact series at SJSU. The series is designed to recognize the importance of all educators by highlighting individuals among our alumni who have made a significant impact in the lives of individuals, communities, and our larger global society.  It highlights diverse professional trajectories. We include individuals who started as school counselors and went on to become superintendents or advisors on state education policy. We include some of our more recent alums who are leading transformational change as school- and community-based activists.  We include teachers who have taught in the same classroom for 30 years and, in doing so, became the backbone of the community. These are educators who see promise and hope in each and every child and believe that their role as educators is to nurture the child’s strengths so that they can achieve their dreams. 

Recently we highlighted the experience of Margaret Isied, the Lead Academic Counselor at Abraham Lincoln High School in San Jose. She has done transformative work within the secondary education counseling space, increased four-year college application acceptances for low-income and students of color, and growing community and professional development opportunities for public school counselors across the West Coast. We also recognized Mike Espinoza, an educator who works tirelessly to make sure his students feel comfortable bringing their full identities to the classroom, providing training to other educators surrounding racial justice and cultural capital. To read more about Margaret, Mike and the other 28 educators we have highlighted to date, or to recommend others we should recognize please visit:

Educator-of-Impact, Mike Espinoza.

We believe this type of initiative adds value to the conversation, as the national discourse in the U.S. often fails to recognize the expertise, professionalism, and value of our educators. Although surveys of the general public often demonstrate strong positive associations with individual teachers, that positive association has not often translated to high regard for educators overall. For several decades now, rather than recognize the societal failures, systematic racism, and deep structural inequities that have resulted in less-than-ideal outcomes for too many students, it has been simpler and more convenient to blame teachers and then undercompensate them for the vital work they have chosen to do in spite of all the many challenges they face. 

The current moment–with educators going above and beyond to support students and families in the midst of a pandemic, parents with children stuck at home newly appreciating the work that teachers do, and a national, long-overdue conversation about racial justice, systematic oppression, and structural inequity–could be a tipping point. If we want to imagine a more just future, then we need to ensure that our schools are truly equitable and inclusive, and we need the teachers, counselors, therapists, school and community leaders embodied in our educators of impact series to lead this transformative work. 

To all of the educators in our audience, we thank you for your incredible commitment to your communities especially during these incredibly challenging times. We look forward to continuing to highlight your efforts to transform the discourse surrounding education and leadership through this platform.

Maxie and Paula

Meet Dr. Heather Lattimer