Elena Garcia-Velasco

Teacher of the Year 2012 - Oregon


Teaching is a very serious profession, the most important job in the world.

As teachers, we are agents of transformation. Education has the power to change lives. To educate is an active verb; to teach is to change the script. At the center of my work is my desire to increase college access for all students. I strive to help bilingual students realize their full academic potential by providing a rigorous Spanish Language Arts program equipped with the necessary support at all levels of development. My work is founded on a wealth of research that shows that literacy development in both first and second languages offers the potential to close the achievement gap and build a model for accelerating learning for bilingual students.


Students are always the important people in the room and they need to be at the center of everything we do.

It is our job to pay attention to what students need and respond with programs that work for them. If something we do doesn’t serve our students, we must remember that we have the power to change that. We know we’ve been successful in our efforts when our students are inspired to formulate their own dreams.

My students have been the biggest influence in the shaping of the teacher I am today. My work as a teacher has been driven by their needs. I have spent the last fifteen years of my life paying very close attention to the issues my students face on a daily basis and responding with the best possible instruction I can possibly offer them. I’ve essentially focused my efforts around removing any obstacles to college access. In the process, I’ve designed programs to fit their needs and push them to go beyond what they envision for themselves, to exceed their own expectations.


In our interaction with students, our faith in their capacity must be unwavering and unequivocally clear.

We must make it our business to find out how far our students can go and be very intentional about supporting their efforts. When we have and maintain high expectations, we show all our students that we are taking them seriously, that we believe in them. Only then are we ready to help them thrive and reach their full potential.

My students are full of possibility and they want to be successful. They deserve not to be defined or limited by their circumstances, the zip code in which they live or the color of their skin.


We must protect instructional time as sacred and maximize its use...

precisely because it is in the classroom where most of the learning takes place for our students. This transformational effect of our time with our students should never be underestimated, even though so often teachers are not invited to the decision-making tables.


Educational reform is not a miracle on demand.

Anything worth pouring our hearts and minds into takes many years of sustained hard work and patience to accomplish; yet somehow, educational reform tends to be conceived as an all or nothing project subjected to a very inflexible time line. Students often thrive in ways not necessarily neatly quantifiable. When working on educational reform, it is important to remember that to give justice to the work that has consistently been happening in a given school for a whole decade, when analyzing the data regarding improvements to celebrate, we must consider the progress over many years and take into consideration the full trajectory.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


Elena Garcia-Velasco was born and raised in Madrid, Spain, but adopted Portland, Oregon, as her home some twenty years ago. She has been a Portland Public Schools teacher since the fall of 1997, right after she graduated with a Master of Arts in Teaching from Lewis & Clark College. She also has a degree called Licenciatura (BA + 1) in Art History from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain. She thought she was going to work in a museum curating exhibits or something like that, but she fell in love with teaching.

She has made most of her teaching career traveling in uncharted territory. She has taught at Roosevelt HS, a professional community fully invested in educational reform, for most of her career. Once Roosevelt split into three small schools, she became one of the co-architects of the planning and development of the Spanish-English International School. Since then, the focus of her work has exclusively been in the area of Spanish Language Arts. She has envisioned, developed and taught a full Spanish Language Arts program that didn’t exist before at the high school level in PPS. Focusing on reading, writing, and critical thinking skills, the program is aligned to develop academic literacy in Spanish at the freshman and sophomore levels in order to prepare students for the rigor of AP courses, which she teaches for juniors (AP Spanish Language) and seniors (AP Spanish Literature).

Elena’s work is founded on a wealth of research that shows that literacy development in both first and second languages offers the potential to close the Achievement Gap and build a model for accelerating learning for bilingual students.  Her work is guided by a very simple principle: always do what is good for kids. Every day she tries to be very mindful to know her impact, as she deeply believes in the power of education to transform lives.