Nursery Road Elementary Spanish teacher Vanessa Torres won what educators call their Oscar award – the American equivalent of los Premios Goya in the language she teaches – on Tuesday.
Torres, a teacher at the Irmo area school for five years, is the fifth Midlands teacher since 2008 to receive the Milken Educator Award recognizing early- to mid-career educators for excellence with a $25,000 prize.
The award underscores that “teachers are world-changers,” she said.
Milken Family Foundation officials cited her skill in using songs, dance, games, stories and skits to teach Spanish language and culture to 460 students, a group that includes her 5-year-old daughter Sophia.
“She has a heart for children,” said Laura Adair, a technology teacher at the school who remembers teaching Torres in the early 1990s.
About three dozen educators across the nation are receiving the award this academic year, additions to a national network whose members stay into touch and swap ideas to improve instruction.
Torres, 35, partly spoke to her students in Spanish about her reaction to getting an award she called unexpected.
She has no plans to leave the classroom, a role she says has been a calling for 15 years.
“I wanted to be a dentist – I wanted to make people smile,” she said. “I found another way to do it. It’s just a fun job.”