“I Use My Story”: Teacher Inspires Immigrant Students With Her Own Experience

"Any opportunity I can help the students realize what they can do, I jump on it."

Isela Lieber, a teacher in North Hills, teaches her students by example.

Her students are immigrants who speak little to no English, and Lieber can relate. Lieber immigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was 17 years old.

"I come from a very hard working family, very poor, nobody in my family … has graduated from high school, or from university," Lieber said.

Lieber became the first in her family to earn her high school diploma and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in education administration. She said she wants to empower the students at Monroe High School by sharing her own experience.

"I use my story, I say, 'Look I got here when I was 17 years old, I didn't know anything in English, I learned,'" Lieber said. "All you have to do is work hard and be persistent, and it will eventually pay off."

Along with teaching, Lieber also runs a club called SUCCEED. The club helps first-generation students with the college application process.

"Any opportunity I can help the students realize what they can do, I jump on it," Lieber said.

Her students said they gain confidence and inspiration from Lieber.

"We relate to her because we have the same story," said Irania Lopez, one of Lieber's students.

Lopez came to the U.S. a year and a half ago from El Salvador, not speaking English. She said Lieber's classroom made her feel at home.

Jonatan Argueta, another student, immigrated to the U.S. three years ago and was encouraged by Lieber's story.

"Her story is so extraordinary, so that's motivating me to do better in life and go to college," Argueta said.

When Lieber started teaching, her plan was to teach for a few years and then become a lawyer, but the connection with her students has kept her in the classroom for 17 years.

"In my students, I see myself," Lieber said.

Lieber's impact on her students was recognized earlier this week, when the state superintendent named her as one of five California Teachers of the Year. Lieber was nominated by a former student.

Lieber and the other Teachers of the Year will be honored at a gala held in Sacramento in February. 

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