At a young age, I became conscious of issues of equity. My family emigrated in 1981 from El Salvador — a country that was torn apart by a civil war caused by inequities in its government’s system. Being Latina and going through the U.S. public educational system in three different states allowed me to experience firsthand how issues of equity impact students across all contexts. With our family’s moves, I went from attending a school that was predominantly students of color, to a school with mostly White and Latino students, to a high school that was predominantly White.

Little did I know at the age of five that a decade would pass between the only two times I learned from a teacher who looked like me. My kindergarten teacher, Mr. Hernández, would be the only Latino teacher I would have until my sophomore year of high school, when I had Señor Furio as my Spanish IV teacher. This has shaped me as a teacher. Now, as a teacher leader, I am determined to serve as a passionate advocate for equity and social justice.

Reflecting on the lack of teachers of color in my own educational experience reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career in education. It’s no secret that the U.S. teaching profession is mostly made up of White teachers and doesn’t accurately reflect the diversity of our students. In Wisconsin, the disproportionality is huge — with 91% of teachers being White despite only 70% of students being White. Experiencing teachers of color can have a profound impact on both students of color and White students, helping to reduce racism and dispel deeply-maintained stereotypes. I firmly believe that by serving as a role model for students and sharing my passion for learning and teaching, students can be inspired to also become teachers or pursue a college degree and become professionals that will then diversify any profession.

Many of the students I work with are DACA recipients or are undocumented immigrants. In a time when there is so much hateful rhetoric against immigrants, I want to be a positive light for students. I want them to feel proud of who they are and where they have come from. I want to be there to encourage them to accomplish their dreams. When I first started teaching at my current school, I was the only Latina teacher there. Now, there are a handful of us and I know that our presence in their educational experience has a profound impact on them.

I am honored to be the first Latina to represent Wisconsin in the National Teacher of The Year Program. Having my students and their families celebrate this accomplishment with me is heartwarming because I can see the pride and joy in their eyes to see someone who looks like them in this role. I want students to see that what some may think is impossible, IS possible.

As a child immigrant from El Salvador who grew up in public schools, Sarahi Monterrey recognizes the pivotal role teachers play in students’ lives. Sarahi was named Wisconsin’s 2018-2019 High School Teacher of the year and is Wisconsin’s 2019 representative to the National Teacher of the Year Program being the first Latinx in the state of Wisconsin to have this honor.

Read more about retaining teachers of color.