Lily Eskelsen, an elementary teacher from Utah, is Vice President of the National Education Association. She is one of the highest-ranking labor leaders in the country and one of its most influential Hispanic educators.
She began her career in education as a lunch worker in a school cafeteria. She became a kindergarten aide and was encouraged by the teacher to go to college and become a teacher herself.
She worked her way through the University of Utah on scholarships, student loans, and as a starving folk singer, graduating magna cum laude in elementary education and later earning her master’s degree in instructional technology.
After teaching for only nine years, she was named Utah Teacher of the Year, using that title as a platform to speak out against the dismal funding of Utah schools. A year later she was elected president of the Utah Education Association.
Lily was president of the Utah State Retirement System, only the second woman to ever be elected to the position; president of the Children at Risk Foundation; and was a member of the White House Strategy Session on Improving Hispanic Education.
She has built alliances with parents, business and civil rights organizations, and with advocates for the disabled and the poor. She often works with coalitions to engage the public in the political process, and she herself was the first Hispanic to run for Congress in her state, raising almost $1 million and taking 45 percent of the vote against the incumbent.
Lily writes a blog, “Lily’s Blackboard,” covering the latest education issues. Her advice has been published in Parenting magazine, and she serves on the advisory board for Parenting’s Mom Congress.
She has been featured on MSNBC and CNN en Español. And she has been the invited keynote speaker for hundreds of education events in virtually every state, earning her recognition by Education World in their “Best Conference Speakers” edition.
Lily was a finalist for Hispanic Business Magazine’s 2009 Woman of the Year – she was honored for her “unwavering dedication to the teaching profession and commitment to improving the lives of all children.”
She believes that no matter how students arrive, and no matter what their learning conditions, their home conditions or their health conditions, that educators have the sacred duty to be professionals and to care for the whole child. And she believes that professionalism carries the responsibility to take action, individually and collectively, to fight to make the promise of public education a reality and to prepare every student to succeed.