Lee Perez, a veteran teacher of 15 years and Concordia alumni, is the first male Latino English Language Learner recipient of the Nebraska Teacher of the Year Award.
Out of four finalists, Perez was presented with the award on October 13 by Matthew Blomstedt, the Nebraska Commissioner of Education.
After teaching at Marrs Magnet School in Omaha, which is a dual-language program, Perez realized that he wanted to pursue higher education in English as a second language, and completed Concordia University’s English as a second language endorsement program in 2019. Then he began teaching at Alice Buffett Magnet Middle school, where he is currently teaching 5th through 8th grade English as a second language.
Perez is very passionate about English as a second language and emphasizes relationships over academics.
“The best teachers make connections first, and it took me five years to figure that out,” Perez said.
Omaha, Nebraska accepts and relocates hundreds of refugees per year, and Perez feels that this will draw in more and more ESL students as time goes on.
One myth that Perez was quick to debunk during the informal coffee chat with students and staff on Monday morning was that, “refugees are pulling money from US citizens. They aren’t. They are getting interest-free loans that they pay back,” Perez said.
In addition to a passion for ESL students, Perez feels very strongly about their cultures and families.
“It’s really cool when kids get to teach me their language. Linguistics is a passion of mine,” Perez said.
He went on to explain that when he does home visits for his students, he experiences different cultures in the meals the students’ families provide.
Perez explained that “the families with the least to give are the ones that give the most.”
Perez is very active in his community outside of being a teacher. He is involved with the Omaha Education Assessment Metro Board, Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee, Nebraska State Education Association, and the English Learner Curriculum Pathway Committee for Omaha Public Schools.
Perez will compete in the National Teacher of the Year competition later this year, but continues to be an active participant in his school district. One particular motion that Perez is fighting for is the dismissal of the mandatory PRAXIS tests for future educators. With the teacher shortage, and the cost of the two tests that are currently required of education majors in Nebraska, Perez believes that it would be better to see future educators’ abilities through their coursework rather than a skills test.