NEWINGTON, Conn. (WTNH) – She is Newington Public School District’s 2020-21 Teacher of the Year. Elsa Batista is a born teacher with every fiber of her being.

She came to the United States with her family at the age of 6 from the Dominican Republic. They didn’t have much, but there was love. She learned to appreciate the little things, which gave her the background to deal with students who need a helping hand.

This Spanish teacher, a mother of two boys, is at the Head of the Class for very obvious reasons.

Batista became a teacher because of the gifts she got from those closest to her growing up in the Bronx, New York.

“I went to a bilingual school and the effort they put into my education, my mother’s hard work, and my dad’s hard work, and I also wanted to help and give back what was given to me,” Batista said.

Batista, who teaches at Martin Kellogg Middle School, says she’s successful in the classroom due in part to her team and colleagues. She asks for help when she needs guidance on helping a student the best they can be because students come to school from all different types of households.

“Every time I walk into a classroom, I think about the young lady who I know is having issues at home with mom. I think about the young man who maybe is having a rough time due to whatever is happening in his life,” Batista said.

News 8’s Ann Nyberg asked Batista, “Do people understand really what it is to be a teacher? Do you want people to know what it’s like to be in the classroom?”

“The social and emotional part of being a teacher is a heavy load sometimes because you go home thinking about students and thinking about that student who has a rough time. Not because they wanted to, but because they’re going through so much that this is their only way to show you that they just want to be held, want to be told they are important, special, and I wish people would realize that. We just don’t go in and out, clock in and out, and walk away. We take that with us,” Batista said.

Teachers work nights on their lesson plans to get it just right for the next day. They feel bad when they hear this from the public.

“I think people really misunderstand our jobs. They say, ‘oh, you have the summers off.’ No, I’m thinking about how can I make this year better. COVID really did a number on all of our classrooms and all of our students and our mental health, and we still had to go in and smile and be happy because we wanted the students to feel like we’re getting through this with you,” Batista said.

Batista gets to know her students through her cultural dance club too. She takes part alongside them.

“If they see you doing it with them, it’s fun for them because they’re like, look at this lady, you know, look at her,” Batista said.

Teachers pick up the slack on their own when basic needs for food and toiletries can’t be met at home.

“You have these students in front of you and they still show up, whether they’re tired or didn’t sleep, whether they slept in a shelter or whether they’re displaced or not at home, but they show up,” Batista said.

She cherishes the notes she gets from her students. It tells her she’s making a difference.

“I want my kids to leave with a connection to the text that they’re reading, to the community they live in, to the world, and ultimately, to themselves,” Batista said. “I want to leave them with empowerment, once they feel empowered and validated, they think for themselves. They start making decisions, even as young adults, they start finding a voice or an identity, and feeling, ‘she thinks I’m amazing.’”

Batista is tearful, thinking about students who need real words of encouragement every day.

“Not everybody might tell them that they are loved or that they matter. In some cases, the parents themselves have emotional things they’re dealing with, the world, society is telling them you don’t matter because you are a brown person, or you’re a girl, or you are of this nationality. You have them in your classroom for 45 minutes and you want them to leave with, I matter and she believes in me,” Batista said.

All of us can remember a teacher who made a difference in our lives. Elsa Batista is truly one of those.

To read more inspiring stories from teachers of Connecticut, check out the online platform launched by Dalio Education earlier this month at