The Hero Teacher Project

Portrait of Narciso Moquete

During January 2021 I completed the first mural sized portrait of a series that I have named the Hero Teacher Project. It is of Narciso Moquete the outstanding 4th grade teacher that was voted the 2019 Hartford Teacher of the Year. Narciso and I met shortly after he had won the award in the fall of the 2019-2020 school year. One year later, I held a virtual unveiling of the portrait that had about 70 people show up through Zoom to celebrate this amazing educator (unveiling video coming soon).

Hero Teacher Project Portrait #1 – CT – 4th grade teacher – Narciso Moquete- 2019 Hartford Teacher of the Year by Jason Gilmore ©2021

The unveiling was a complete rush!! Everyone was so happy to see their friend, relative, teacher, and hero immortalized. There was immense positivity around the accomplishments of this one man. This is how it should be; teachers being celebrated as the great humanitarians that they are. The heroes that I am celebrating are educators that have gone to great lengths to connect with their students and families in innovative ways.

The success of this one portrait has fostered good questions like: Why are there not enough teachers of color in our public schools? Why are there not enough art teachers to go around? Why are teachers spending their own money to fund this classrooms? I feel people want to have these conversations. The people of America LOVE teachers yet state and district policy/ funding do not always support teachers as they should. I feel it’s time to bring educators together in a positive light and redefine the American Teacher as a Hero.

Narciso Moquete, The 1st Hero Teacher and representative for Connecticut.

MISSION STATEMENT

We believe that teachers are the backbone of education. To elevate their love and labor through the magic of art, the Hero Teacher Project celebrates public school teachers by painting larger-than-life sized portraits of an inspiring teacher from each of the 50 states, plus DC. The paintings not only recognize the contributions of our nation’s leading educators, but also highlight those from historically underrepresented and unsung backgrounds, such as teachers of color and those who pioneer in the arts. Upon completion of this project, we will invite all 51 teachers and members of the public to Washington DC for an unveiling and celebration of their teaching excellence and of public education.

WHY:

Teachers are amazing people that can be whatever their students, families, and schools need them to be. They can be educators, therapists, counselors, surrogate parents, family therapists, their own tech-support, and their own classroom’s financial sponsors. Teachers are the glue that have been holding the woefully underfunded American school system together, at least for the past 20 years.

My aim with the Hero Teacher Project is to show the country what gems they have in each state. My goal is to tell the teachers’ stories. I want the country to come together around these 51 heroes and demand appropriate support for their unwavering efforts. I will make sure that teachers are celebrated appropriately by their own communities. Thus, ensuring teachers are always valued as a group of dedicated and highly skilled professionals whose only calling is to care for the children and the families of our nation.

Dina Needham, Special Education Teacher for Windsor Hill Elementary School in Warwick, RI has agreed to be the Rhode Island Hero Teacher.

HOW:

When all of the portraits from each state have been completed all 51 portraits will be brought to Washington DC for the GRAND UNVEILING of the HERO TEACHER PROJECT. There, all Hero Teachers will gather together on the Washington Mall to speak to the American Community. This will be a chance for teachers to focus the conversation around the future of education on students and learning. This will be a chance to bring our country, states, and districts leaders together to celebrate the American Public School Teacher. This will be a moment to say that we cannot have success in schools without our national, state, and district leaders, our families, our students and teachers working together. We need everyone on board to make education in America exactly what it should be, a wonderful place for all to grow, achieve, and discover.

WHEN:

I have begun this art journey already! We are creating a Kickstarter campaign to be launched in the fall of 2021 to raise money for supplies and travel to create the paintings and interviews. The Hero Teacher Project Art Exhibition will be held in Washington DC soon after we complete 50 more Portrait Unveilings! Fundraising for the show will be complete in 2022 to be held in the summer of 2023.

WHO:

I will work with the Council of Chief State School Officers, the organization that is responsible for running the National Teacher of the Year program for the United States of America to promote the project.

Criteria for choice of teacher as a Hero Teacher: Someone who has had to overcome incredible odds to become a teacher and connect so well with students, staff, and families that they have been elevated to teacher of the year through their unusual practice.

Massachusetts 2020 Teacher of The Year, Takeru Nagayoshi from New Bedford High School has agreed to be the Massachusetts Hero Teacher.

Hero teachers must be currently practicing so I can observe them in action with students in order to get to know them as an educator.

There are currently far more white teachers than teachers of color.

In 2017–18, about 79 percent of public school teachers were White, 9 percent were Hispanic, 7 percent were Black, 2 percent were Asian, 2 percent were of Two or more races, and 1 percent were American Indian/Alaska Native; additionally, those who were Pacific Islander made up less than 1 percent of public school teachers. The percentage of public school teachers who were White and the percentage who were Black were lower in 2017–18 than in 1999–2000, when 84 percent were White and 8 percent were Black.2 In contrast, the percentage who were Hispanic was higher in 2017–18 than in 1999–2000, when 6 percent were Hispanic.” – National Center for Education Statistics

We need to promote K-12 teaching as a realistic career choice for people of minorities. Young people of color need to see images of people that look like them as high achievers in the field of public education if they are going to consider educator as a possible career choice. Kids also need to see themselves in their teachers in order to know that they too can succeed in this society. I will choose minority educators as Hero teachers whenever possible.

The arts are also under represented in the schools and are also in need of new teachers. We need more art teachers. I believe we are about to turn a corner on the importance of the arts. Thus, the arts will move back into favor with school boards along side of the core 4 subjects. We will need artists to see themselves as valued members of the education community. I will celebrate the award winning arts teacher as a Hero Teacher whenever possible.

My Family:

My Wife, Lindsay, daughter Elan (10), Son Arion (7), and daughter Seren (5) will be helping me every step of the way to meet the Hero Teacher Project Mission and Goals. We are so excited to show them the teachers of this great nation in such a granular and personal way.

Lindsay worked very hard to make our home classroom during the 2020-2021 School year a better place to learn. To do this in a pandemic and continue to run the household as she does is a true accomplishment. Who else is a Hero teacher here?

Published by Jason Gilmore Artist

Public education is in need of as many advocates as possible. I intend to use my art to advocate for students and teachers. For the past 10 years I have been working to integrate muralism into the public school curriculum and it is WORKING! Enjoy!

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