“Students are our future! Let’s invest in them for a better tomorrow!”
The words are virtually aligned across the right side of Lizette De Luna’s green screen and a perfect representation of her passion for teaching — a love that has only continued to flourish since her 2008 start in the classroom. In the fall of 2019, De Luna moved her passion online to become a teacher for Proximity Learning.
De Luna does not let any obstacles stand in her way from logging online and teaching her students. For her first month teaching at Proximity, the green screen concealed her son’s bunk bed where she taught underneath. Unknowingly, her students only saw the day’s lesson fill the screen behind her. It was a less-than-convenient teacher’s hideaway connecting her to a classroom in a whole other city. Can’t imagine how she was able to do it? Listen to her tell the story:
Growing up, De Luna frequently heard a variety of unfortunate stories on the news about children. Since she began interacting with children in the classroom, these difficult stories have become so much more real. “One of them came to me and said: ‘Ms. De Luna, can you adopt me?’” she said. “If I could adopt them all, I would. If I could give a house to every one of them, I would.”
In her first years teaching in a 5th-grade classroom, she frequently would see kids arriving late to school and not turning in homework on time. Like all teachers, she wanted them to be successful. But the stories behind these incidents were a lot more bothersome than she expected to hear: “My first years of teaching started where [a student would say]: ‘Well, I’m sorry Ms. De Luna. I couldn’t turn in my homework because I had to make dinner for my little sister or my little brother. I had to look after them,’” they said. “‘My mom works all night and then my dad doesn’t live there.’”
As more and more students have come to her for guidance over the years, she has increasingly changed from the young girl who drowned out the televised news. She is an activist for her students now and while she can’t grant all of their wishes, it means everything to her that she can teach her students lessons that they can use to create a better future for themselves.
While the long road through k-12 education can be uneven and hard for many kids, De Luna’s students can always come to her and ask for help and guidance along that road. “Even if you’re not physically there,” she said. “You can still build a relationship through a computer.”
By teaching online, De Luna says she can now reach and help a wider range of students and provide more kids the resources for a better future. “I really believe that anybody can learn given the right tools, the right resources, given that belief in them,” she said. “I hope that my students know that I believe in each and every one of them … I hope that they believe in themselves.”
While De Luna hopes she can help her students believe in themselves, her students have also helped her believe in herself. Teaching can be overwhelming and there have been moments where she has wondered: "Is this really what I want to do?" When that thought comes up, she stops herself by remembering her students and their stories, for her true passion lies in helping them better themselves.
Beyond the classroom, she wants her students to "have somebody in the world that’s going to be on their side and that’s going to help them through difficult times in their life." Whether it is home or school that is bothering students, De Luna will always be there to tell them: “You know what, it’s okay. Life is going to be hard. Life will be hard and it’ll never stop being hard. But we need to find the tools that we can right now to make sure that your future is okay.”
During a time where American teachers are increasingly losing their passion for education and fewer people are wanting to teach, De Luna hopes to be an encouraging voice that inspires current and future teachers to build relationships with students. To never stop listening to them, trusting them, and believing in them. Because by investing in them, we are investing in a better tomorrow.