Ortega steps in front of camera to elevate teaching profession

Four individuals sit around a wooden table, drinking coffee, engaged in conversation.
Carlos Ortega (left) and Julia Barrett (right) meet with Josh Monroe and Tom Whisinnand, teachers in the Omaha metro and co-hosts on the podcast "What the World Needs Now," to discuss what teaching looks like for them in Nebraska. (Just Jump Films)

Ortega steps in front of camera to elevate teaching profession

08 Feb 2023     By Haley Apel

Nebraska’s Carlos Ortega has always known he wanted to be a teacher.

The first-generation college student has experienced firsthand how supportive teachers can shape student lives, setting them up for future success.

“My fifth-grade teacher really cared about her students and that resonated at the time, and has always stuck with me,” Ortega said.

Ortega was recently cast to take part in a new documentary that highlights the critical work of teachers. It is part of a national “Who Taught You” project created by Sally Nellson and Andy Marinkovich, part of the team behind the “I Love Public Schools” campaign.

“In my point of view, education is the most important part of adolescent development,” Ortega, a junior secondary education major, said. “Teachers play a critical role in building one’s foundation and this documentary will explore that influence.”

Over the next few months, Ortega and his castmate, Julia Barrett, a recently resigned K-12 health teacher from Philadelphia, will travel the country and explore the realities of the education profession, engaging with school leaders, students, teachers, policy makers, business and community members. With the mission of “elevating the profession that makes all others possible,” the film aims to start conversations about complex issues in education in order to create positive, meaningful change.

The film is accompanied by a #WhoTaughtYou social media impact campaign that seeks to get people thinking about the teachers who helped them get to where they are today, highlighting the widespread and profound impacts that teachers have on every level of society.

“I’m able to approach this from a student perspective, and so far, the conversations have been really amazing. At the same time, this project allows me to gain more understanding of the field itself and where I fit within it,” Ortega said.

The documentary crew filmed Ortega on campus, capturing a day-in-the life of the College of Education and Human Sciences student. He is part of the Teacher Scholars Academy, a cohort-style academic community aimed at growing the teacher workforce in Nebraska, recruiting new students to the profession of education, and preparing teachers who will be the backbone of school transformation. The academy specifically focuses on growing educators that are equipped to tackle overwhelming systemic challenges.

“When I think about the qualities that make an excellent educator, Carlos fits a textbook definition,” said Braden Foreman-Black, coordinator of the Teacher Scholars Academy. “Carlos is energetic, honest and tenacious, and will be serving in a critical role in addressing the widespread challenges that face the field of education."

“I can think of no better person to address these challenges.”

Ortega’s passion for teaching is reflected in his desire to help others and through his many involvements on campus. When he’s not at the piano making music, Ortega can be found working in the New Student Enrollment Office, where he’s a Spanish language support specialist, helping to ensure that every Husker going through orientation has the same experience. He is also on the executive board for Future Teachers of Color, a registered student organization on campus.

And, when he looks ahead to leading his own classroom, Ortega can’t help but think back to his fifth-grade teacher.

“It was her first year of teaching, but the way she was able to connect with students was really inspiring,” Ortega said. “I’ve always wanted to find her to say thank you.”

Learn more about the documentary.

College of Education and Human Sciences
Teaching, Learning & Teacher Education

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