When Johanys Alvarez moved to Iowa from Puerto Rico in 2004, the History teacher decided a different subject was a better fit.

“That year I started to work as a Spanish teacher at Saint Edward School in Waterloo,” Alvarez said. “I was not comfortable with my English at the time, and I decided to teach Spanish instead.”

Seven years later, she chose Des Moines Public Schools, and that was the first step on a path to earning the Middle School Educator of the Year Award from the Iowa World Language Association (IWLA). The EOY award is given to the individual who exemplifies the best in teaching at their particular level and who has provided outstanding service to the profession in the state of Iowa, according to IWLA.

Sam Finneseth, who serves as the DMPS World Language Curriculum Coordinator, nominated Alvarez in part because her students thrive in the classroom both emotionally and academically.

“Not only does she demonstrate excellence in world language teaching, but she is also an advocate and leader,” Finneseth said.  “Her energy, passion, and positive outlook ensure everyone feels welcome and stuff gets done.”

Alvarez has taught at Brody and Goodrell middle schools, and Moore Elementary. She currently teaches at Harding and Meredith, where she also leads the Dream to Teach program.  In addition, Alvarez serves as the PLC Lead for Heritage Spanish at DMPS. The opportunity for professional growth is part of what brought her to DMPS.

“DMPS had better opportunities to grow and more benefits than the other districts,” Alvarez said. “I have stayed with DMPS for so many reasons, one the diversity, the growing Hispanic population, our administration, staff, and our Language Department. We have the support of our curriculum coordinator, and my co-workers are the BEST! We have a great Team.”

Finneseth says Alvarez is always going above and beyond to serve others.

“She regularly secures funding and organizes time outside of contract hours for teachers to collaborate and dig deep into what we offer students,” said Finneseth. “She comes prepared and presents during large group professional development days. She attends all World Language events and is a big supporter of the Seal of Biliteracy. Johanys is also dedicated to being a strong student. She attends IWLA and CIIA when she can, and she is finishing her Master’s in ESL at Grand View to better serve her middle school students.”

Alvarez is invited to attend the IWLA conference luncheon next month and share some wisdom as she accepts the award. She will then go on to the next regional level and compete against other Midwest World Language teachers.

“I love teaching because I am not only teaching a language, but I am also teaching my students about my culture and my traditions,” she said. “I want to motivate them to be the best person that they can be. I enjoy seeing how they develop to become a global citizen.”

When the award was announced to her colleagues, Alvarez had one message for them.

“Thanks to all of you for challenging me to be a better teacher each day!”


DMPS is excited to add that Tye Nyhus Nelson, a new-to-the-profession Spanish teacher at North High School, was selected as the Iowa World Language Association’s high school Teacher of Promise award winner. And, Jorge Santiago, a second-year Spanish teacher at Hoyt, was selected as the Iowa World Language Association’s middle school Teacher of Promise award winner. Finneseth said both show incredible language skills, engaging instruction, and genuine care for students.

IWLA EOY: Johanys Alvarez

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