Illinois Education Association honors educators from around the state

SPRINGFIELD – The state’s largest union, the Illinois Education Association (IEA), today honored those with an outstanding commitment to their schools, their students, their communities and to public education.

The awards were presented during the IEA Representative Assembly (RA). The RA is the legislative body of the IEA and helps the union set its agenda for the year. There are 1,200 IEA delegates, guests and state dignitaries who attend the RA. The IEA award recipients were nominated and chosen for their awards by their peers.

The 2023 IEA RA award winners are:

Bob Haisman Teacher of the Year Award – Amber Sims (Alton)

Prior to becoming a pre-k teacher, Amber Sims was a paraprofessional in a classroom for students with autism. Amber enhances the image of “new teacher” by showing us that the title is not solely reserved for 22-year-olds. Anyone can become a new educator at any point in life—and having new educators with varying backgrounds and work experiences can only bring value to the classroom. Amber joined the IEA Virtual Coaching and Mentoring Program as a mentee and continues to participate in this program today. This year, she joined the IEA Early Career Committee and encouraged fellow local members to join her at the 2022 Fall Aspiring Educator and Early Career Conference. As the Early Career Region Representative for Region 6, she always looks for opportunities to grow. She attended the Ethnic Minority and Emerging Leadership Training (EMELT) last fall to enhance her knowledge about the association, and this year, she is proud to attend the 2023 IEA RA as a first-time delegate. Amber is a role model to other Early Career Educators, showing them you can be involved in the association, even as a nontenured teacher. She advocates for educators in the southern part of the state and brings new perspectives and ideas to any meeting that she attends. The IEA is stronger because of her work to recruit other Early Career Educators in her area and help them get involved. Amber is a fearless advocate for public education and for our union.

Bob Haisman Student Award – Elizabeth Horvat (Student at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)

Elizabeth has been involved in IEA activities for most of her career at the University of Illinois and has been instrumental in organizing more students on campus. She has also been involved in parades and organizing activities in the community that shine a positive light on our public schools. Dedicated to union work and public education, Elizabeth serves on the University of Illinois Aspiring Educators Board of Directors and the Executive Committee for the Illinois Political Action Committee for Education (IPACE). She stands out in helping many young teachers feel more connected to each other and the teaching community. This work has spilled over into the classroom where she has built a strong community amongst the students. Academically, she is incredibly talented. In the classroom, she is an outstanding teacher who considers the diverse backgrounds of her students into planning decisions. She is dedicated to implementing culturally relevant teaching strategies and strives to achieve equity and inclusion for all students.

Education Support Professional of the Year – Rosalina Esmez (Mundelein)

For the past 18 years, Rosalina Esmez has provided translation services to 100 English Language Learner (ELL) students of all grade levels and backgrounds. As a survivor of the war in El Salvador, she is a steadfast supporter of immigrant students and has shared her personal experiences in social studies classes. She builds strong relationships with not only students, but also their parents, helping them navigate school policies and procedures and providing translation for all parent conferences. Rosalina has contacted parents of ELL students who were being held in jail. She has been an advocate for replacing discipline measures that are harmful to ELL students with restorative justice measures to minimize jail exposures. She received the “Resilient” award from IEA/NEA for her work with excessive incarcerations of ELL students. Her crowning achievement in the union was her successful recruitment of three buildings and grounds staff members who were experiencing discrimination at work. The bargaining sessions were divisive and the prospective members faced intimidation practices from supervisors. However, Rosalina’s work led to the three new members gaining just pay, retroactive seniority and pensions. Rosalina’s experience both as a union executive board member and Region 49 representative has brought an enhanced understanding of the inequities ELL, immigrant and Hispanic students face in the public education system.

Reg Weaver Human and Civil Rights Award – Linda Matsumoto (Evanston)

Linda became a local association activist when she advocated for Education Support Professional (ESP) salary parity in her school district in 2019, helping her local successfully bargain for 6 percent pay raises and a five-year contract. After her participation in the IEA Emerging Leaders Academy and completion of the NEA Pre-Uniserv Academy and IEA Uniserv Internship program, Linda focused her work on increasing visibility for the Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) educational community. She has presented on countering Asian American stereotypes (specifically, the Myth of the Model Minority) that perpetuate implicit, systemic and institutional bias in classrooms across the United States. Recognizing the rising tide of anti-Asian hate in our country since the start of the pandemic, Linda joined the growing movement to support inclusive history mandates. She created the first IEA diversity and cultural competency workshop for Illinois educators at the 2021 Summer Leadership Academy, focusing on AAPI history and culture and told from authentic voices from shared experiences. Her educational mission is to help people discover the intersectionality of our collective histories, and how those interwoven experiences can affirm, uplift and unite us.

Mary Lou and Keith Hauge Retiree of the Year Award – Timothy Brinker (IEA-Retired from Glen Ellyn)

Tim has been instrumental in the mentoring program sponsored by IEA for teachers-in-training. During the past 10 years, he has mentored 14 students and is serving his fourth year as chair. Currently on the IEA Council of Retirees, Tim’s previous committees and roles are almost too many to count: the president of the West Suburban Retired Chapter, Grassroots Political Activist (GPA) and member of the IEA Scholarship Committee, to name a few. Long before the delegates of the NEA RA adopted the Native Land Acknowledgment, Tim was traveling to native sites and one summer spent time working on a Navajo Reservation. During recent land acknowledgments at chapter meetings, he has taught different parts of indigenous language and customs. Tim values social gatherings and has organized luncheons, theatre excursions and even a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Skokie. While president of his chapter, Tim increased membership every year and eventually doubled their membership numbers. During the pandemic, Tim was tireless in making phone calls to members to check in and see how he could help. Tim has done work on legislative issues that impact retired members and advocated for retired pensions and retirement benefits for all IEA-Retired members. A true leader and advocate, Tim is always ready and willing to step up and go the extra mile.

NEA Award for Teaching Excellence Nominee – Seth Brady (Naperville) 

As a social studies teacher at Naperville Central High School, Seth has challenged his students to become thinkers, advocates and change-makers. He has dedicated his career to crafting public education that is more sustainable, inclusive and equitable in the state of Illinois. In 2015, Seth built a coalition of educators to advocate for the passage of the Illinois Global Scholar Certificate. He developed a powerful assessment for the certificate, known as a capstone, and has since mentored more than 100 students as they address world challenges, connect with experts, develop solutions and effect powerful change. Students have addressed issues like human trafficking, air pollution and the spread of misinformation. Two years before the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, Seth was approached by a student who wanted to use his capstone to investigate how restorative justice models can be used to address racial bias and intolerance at school. Seth assisted this student in creating a space for students of every race to share experiences, address harm and dive deeper into certain topics of racial inequity. The group developed a plan to repair harm and strengthen community using restorative conversations.  After the murder of George Floyd, Seth received requests to continue the project throughout the summer. Even after a COVID-19 lockdown and hybrid school, the project continues today under a new name, “Conversations about Us,” which will launch in the Spring and be facilitated by teacher-student pairs. Seth Brady is a truly remarkable teacher who is as dedicated to his students’ learning as he is to his own professional growth and the growth of his colleagues. His former student, Braden Hajer, shares that “Mr. Brady is a legendary educator, and equally as important, a great guy…I, simply put, do not know how he does what he does…[Mr. Brady] is nothing short of superhuman.”


At 135,000 members strong, the Illinois Education Association (IEA) is the largest union in Illinois. The IEA represents PreK-12 teachers outside the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty and support staff, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.

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