Although International Women’s Day has passed, it is still relevant and important to recognize some of the amazing female teachers who make up Thomas Jefferson High School’s staff.
Michelle Obama, lawyer, writer, and former First Lady of the United States, once said, “Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” Every year on Monday, March 8th, the world celebrates the success and changes women make in society through their economic, political, social, and cultural achievements. This is also a crucial time for the women’s rights movement, as people not only celebrate but also call attention to the issues women face in society. It is a time to reflect on the progress made and push to achieve even more progress by advocating for gender equality and women’s rights around the globe. People celebrate International Women’s Day in multiple ways, which can range from educating children of all genders to protesting for the eradication of violence against women. In particular, Thomas Jefferson High School celebrates this day by recognizing the importance of educating girls and providing support to female teachers as they make a positive impact on the students and community.
Teaching educates generations and allows them to form their own opinions and ideas about society. It provides young people with the tools and knowledge to build a better world than the one before them. Teachers are crucial to any community because they inspire students to strive for greatness by expanding their limits and knowledge of the world around them. In particular, female teachers around the globe inspire female students to continue their studies, pursue STEM subjects, increase their aspirations, and have an overall positive impact on their learning.
A native to Denver, Colorado, Lynne Valencia-Hernández assumed the role every older sibling is cursed and blessed with as she helped her younger siblings navigate their lives; as a result, she discovered her inherent passion for teaching. What was once a game of playing school with her little sister became a career, and she has been teaching Denver Public Schools students for 23 years. During her journey, she made the transition from teaching elementary students for 18 years to teaching high school students at TJ. Despite the huge difference between elementary and high school, she continues to make an impact on the lives of her students: she is the sponsor of the T.J. Hispanic Latino Club, a building representative, a board member of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA), a member of the fund for the political action committee at the state (CEA), and local level (DCTA), and the lead spokeswoman of the DCTA bargaining team. Valencia-Hernández explained that her work within the union contributes to gender equality by “representing a great deal of female teachers throughout [the] city and the state, but then also all the female children [teachers] have as students.” Teachers support young girls by “leading them in a way that they will themselves become leaders one day.” This is significant work because women have not only been marginalized throughout history but also female teachers have been underrepresented, undervalued, and underpaid; thus, it is important that on this day the world recognizes the value of women by working to achieve gender equality in education. Additionally, like role models, good teachers have the power to motivate students to overcome their limitations and strive to be the best versions of themselves. Valencia-Hernández recognizes this importance and the power setting an example has, “especially for minority students, [as it] shows them that they can achieve whatever they want, they can pursue any field they want, and be anyone they want to be.”
Lauren Palek discovered her love for teaching through her love for reading and writing. She went to graduate school for English Literature, where she was introduced to the world of teaching through the experience of teaching undergraduate classes. Her path to teaching led her to TJ, where she has been teaching for seven years. After graduating summa cum laude from the University of Colorado Boulder, getting a Master’s in English Literature, being a senior team lead, teaching community college, and switching to teaching high school, Palek demonstrates that she is resilient and that once she commits she not only succeeds but exceeds. Another one of her many achievements is the Speech and Debate team at TJ, which provides students with the opportunity to enhance their knowledge of current events, public speaking, researching, and writing. Her path to teaching may not have been straightforward, but it was her willingness to turn the page and try new things that allowed her passion to burn bright. As a result, she sponsored the Speech and Debate team, and her students are able to get the most out of their education. It was during the teacher strike in 2019 that people recognized the injustices within the system and the value of teachers to society. It was during this strike that seniors in Palek’s class surprised her with letters of encouragement, as it was an emotionally challenging time for her since being away from her classroom would hurt her students’ learning, but being there would also hurt the quality of their education. It is moments like these that signify the importance of teachers beyond providing knowledge—the relationships they have with their students also encourage empathy and character development. International Women’s day to Palek means “women supporting women” and “expanding what people might think of when they think of the successful woman.” This is significant because people’s perception of what a successful woman is or looks like can be very limited because of their environment, yet this day allows for the world to celebrate successful women from all walks of life. This allows people to expand their perception of a successful woman to encompass a variety of cultures, backgrounds, religions, and more. Palek also notes the importance of recognizing the achievements of women around the world because it is necessary to keep the conversation going until it becomes normal to appreciate and uplift all the contributions made to society. “Unless [people] examine the conscious contribution by women, it is very easy [for women] to be overlooked,” Palek claimed.
International Women’s Day is crucial because there are issues that women around the world face that need to be addressed, and there are contributions made by women around the world that deserve to be appreciated, no matter how small. This day is a celebration and a call to action. So, wake up and recognize what is going on in the world and help make International Women’s Day a regular occurrence because women make contributions to society every single day.