2018 Teacher of the Year Inspires–and Advocates for–Her Immigrant Students

Mandy Manning is my hero. The 2018 National Teacher of the Year is in the spotlight, and she’s using the attention to advocate for the refugee and immigrant students she teaches in Spokane, Wash.

Mandy is an 18-year, National Board Certified teacher. She’s a former Peace Corps volunteer who taught in Armenia, Japan and schools across the nation. Her travels inspire her to encourage students “to explore, be fearless, and embrace new experiences with compassion.”

At the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School, Mandy’s students come from all over the world in search of safety. But in the current climate, “they don’t always feel safe.”

She believes that part of her responsibility is making sure her students have the resources they need inside the classroom, as well as the care and support they require outside the classroom to reach their goals.

Mandy is like the tens of thousands of educators across the nation who have turned this into “Educator Spring”: a movement of outspoken activism.

Educators are saying loud and clear: “We’re not gonna take it.” They’re walking out of schools in their comfy shoes (we always have a few pairs) with students, parents, and other community members, marching, surrounding state capitols, making a beautiful spectacle of themselves and causing an absolutely glorious scene.

They want to win the resources that students, schools, and educators need and deserve, in order to create the learning and teaching conditions that will lead to success. I’ve had the honor of marching and protesting with many of these educators, and all of them inspire me.

Mandy was at the White House just the other day and Donald Trump presented her with a crystal apple. She presented him with something, too: handwritten letters from her students, who have come to the United States from Guatemala, Syria, Afghanistan, and many other countries where turmoil turned their families’ lives upside down.

In an interview with CNN, Mandy said: “My goal is to share my students’ stories” and “to send a message—to not only my immigrant and refugee students but the LGBT community—that they are wanted, they are loved, they are enough and they matter.”

Mandy spoke at the White House event, but media were not permitted to hear her speech and the White House asked her not share what she said. But we can guess.

Her advocacy comes at a critical time: Incidents of discrimination and harassment based on race, religion and national origin are rising. In response, the NEA’s Office of General Counsel hosted a Facebook Live discussion to bring together civil rights advocates and educators for a wide-ranging talk what we can do to protect our students’ rights.

As an active member in the Spokane Education Association and the Washington Education Association, she is also dedicated to her colleagues and profession. She is a building rep, serving as an important link between her co-workers and their union. In addition, Mandy mentors other teachers, and she recently helped re-evaluate her school’s discipline procedures.

Mandy’s commitment to helping students succeed and continuously raising her voice for the opportunities that all students deserve tell me that the Council of Chief State School Officers made a great choice in selecting her for the honor.

She is an outstanding example of how teachers transform the lives of their students, and our non-stop advocacy for every single child.


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