Shining a Light on Our Nation's Educators: Inspiration that Can Change Our World

Our future is shaped by our educators.

They are the ones who guide our students, who hold in their hands each day the keys to creating the world we all want -- a world more just, more peaceful, more empathetic, and more secure.

We owe a lot to educators, including respect, understanding, and support. But we also owe them a chance to tell their stories, so that they can inspire the learners of today to become our great educators of tomorrow.

That's why, on February 22, PeopleAdmin launched the Inspired2Educate program.

During this yearlong initiative, we ask current educators to tell us about those in their pasts who inspired them to go into the noble field of education.

Inspired2Educate is an effort to thank our nation's professors, teachers, administrators, counselors, coaches and educational staff for the incredible work they do on our school grounds and college campuses to prepare our students to thrive.

But it is also an investment in our future. By sharing educators' inspiring stories, we hope to motivate today's students to choose a career in education for themselves. We want them to know that they, too, can one day make the difference in the life of a young person who may be seeking support, struggling for direction or grasping for confidence.

We want them to believe, as we do, that changing the trajectory of a single life can have a profound impact, setting off a ripple that can reach hearts and minds around the globe.

At a time when our nation faces a chronic shortage of teachers and administrators, and when so many of our young people need positive adult role models to lift their lives, the ambition that fuels Inspired2Educate is more vital than ever before.

The stories we've received so far have outshone even our loftiest expectations. We've been overwhelmed by the compassion, resilience, and persistence of educators in changing students' lives.

Consider two of the stories we received in the opening weeks of our program:

Elizabeth is a math teacher from Colorado. Growing up as a Latina in a predominantly white community, she remembers feeling every day that because she was different she didn't belong -- that somehow her skin color and traditions made her "less than" her classmates and peers.

But Mrs. Vasquez put an end to that. As her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Vasquez taught Elizabeth history and English -- but her greatest lesson was something that can't be taught from a textbook. Mrs. Vasquez swept aside the misguided notion that Elizabeth should feel ashamed of her heritage and for being who she is. In doing so, she unlocked a fourth-grader's confidence and unleashed her ability to learn and lead.

Today, Elizabeth is carrying forward Mrs. Vasquez's powerful lesson, giving her students the courage to embrace the differences that make them unique.

Or consider Kenny, a superintendent from Texas whose dad passed away when he was 12. Kenny's mother, a high school graduate, worked full time, but what she earned wasn't enough to support their family. So, at 15, as his peers studied and planned for higher education, Kenny was busy settling into a new "home": his car.

For two months, he lived this way, until a baseball coach took him in. The stability was good, but Kenny still lacked money and had little confidence in his academic abilities. College seemed like a joke, rather than a plan.

Mrs. Spears, an English teacher, had other plans. She saw potential in Kenny, taught him he had value and worth and lifted his expectations. But she did more than that. She insisted that he set his sights on college.

When it came time to take the ACT, complete college applications, and submit financial aid information, Mrs. Spears offered a helping hand. And two weeks before college, when Kenny's mother passed away, she was right there again making sure he knew the best way to honor his mother's memory was to continue on his journey to higher education.

That journey has carried Kenny through a master's degree, a doctorate, and two leadership institutes at Harvard University. Mrs. Spears' inspiration is alive today in the energy and confidence he bestows daily upon thousands of students as their superintendent.

Elizabeth's and Kenny's stories are not uncommon. What binds the stories we're collecting through Inspired2Educate is an educator who was willing to go above and beyond the letter of their jobs, to take the time to care, provide strength in moments of loss, and bestow belief in the face of doubt.

The great gift educators give their students is reason to believe that the future - their future - will be better than the past. Optimism is a choice. And by choosing optimism, our educators weave hope into young lives and the fabric of our societies.

Their service to all of us has stood the test of time. Let's tell their stories. Let's inspire a better future.

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If you have a story about an educator who inspired you, we want to hear it. Please visit PeopleAdmin's Inspired2Educate website today. Your voice will help us shine a light on the educators who have led in the past, and motivate those who will lead in the future.

Kermit S. Randa is chief executive officer of PeopleAdmin, the leader in cloud-based talent management solutions for education and government. He has twenty years of executive experience leading firms in the software industry.