“I think she’s really nice,” says Riley, speaking of her teacher. “She’s really funny, and I like her because of that. Sometimes she can be strict, but I like her.”
Our world is full of people who, day after day, strive to make a difference in the lives of those around them. There are police officers who willingly put their lives on the line, every single day, to keep us safe. The firemen who willingly race into burning buildings to save lives and property. EMS techs who work their hardest to save lives call after call. These are just some of the unsung heroes in our lives.
Then there are teachers. Teachers rate up there on the list of unsung heroes. To me, teachers are just as important as police officers, doctors, and maybe more important than most politicians up in Washington D.C.
Can you name another profession where someone, out of their pocket, spends to make sure kids have school supplies? Where one works, off the clock, grading papers, tutoring failing students, or guiding a group of kids, after hours and off the clock, in chess club? I can’t.
Can you think of anyone who touched your life in such a way that it continues to guide you decades later? I can, three out of four are teachers.
The first one for me is Ms. Williams, an English teacher I had in middle school. She had encouraged me to follow my dreams of writing poetry, and not to listen to those who say poetry is a dying form of writing.
Next, Mr. Capps, he was my physics teacher in Middle School. Mr. Capps went out of his way to make learning physics not only fun but easy as well. I can still recall his teaching style and everything I learned.
Then, there was Paul Strelzin, who was principal when I was in Middle School. Strelzin – like Steve Crosno – helped me to find my voice, and get that first radio gig.
Each of these educators touched my life in such a way that I can contribute my success in life to them. They made so much happen for me, internally. They gave me knowledge, strength, and helped to unlock a potential that otherwise would have remained dormant. I’m thankful for every one of them.
Not too long ago, the Catholic Diocese of El Paso recognized many of their teachers during the SEED awards. At that awards dinner, Patricia R. Martinez, of St. Pius X Catholic School was named teacher of the year. The other day I was able to catch up with her and talk a bit about what it means to be a teacher, and teacher of the year.
Ms. Martinez is one of those rare teachers. She gets to follow the academic careers of the students she encounters at St. Pious X.
“What excites me, about my job as a teacher,” she said, “is that I get to see the progression of learning.”
Ms. Martinez teaches computer literacy and has been for the past twenty-nine years. From basic typing to coding, she is working to instill the skill set needed for her kids to succeed now, and in the future.
“I am a teacher because I really want to make a difference,” she says.
Before being a teacher, she was in retail. “I didn’t feel like I was making a difference to anyone,” she says. “It was all about the dollar.”
“The best thing,” she says, about being a teacher, “is being around children who want to learn. Who you can enlighten about G-d, about their faith. Sharing my knowledge about computers with them and hoping that I have something to give them besides just knowledge.”
Ms. Martinez does say that she wants to be able to give them something beyond just knowledge. She hopes that she can impart a piece of herself, what makes her, her. Then ineffable something that drives her to be the best she can be.
After hearing her speech at the SEED awards, after meeting her, I think that “something” is her faith.
Being a teacher is hard. You have students who come to you with many of their daily problems, their struggles, and at times it can be very heard helping them work through that. But to have faith, to know G-d, and to use that relationship as an example is what makes Ms. Martinez – like all parochial school teachers – stand out.
It’s an amazing thing when a child comes to you for help, and you know you can assist them. When you can also teach them life lessons that focus on G-d, how much better does it become?
Still, there are the hardships of being a teacher, like carving out time for yourself.
“The hardest thing about being a teacher is to manage time,” she says. “To prepare for lessons. I think that would be the hardest part, time management and preparing for lessons.” Ms. Martinez is a product of Catholic education and St. Pius X Catholic School is her alma mater.
After graduation, after her time working retail, it was the school she chose to return to as a teacher.
“To me,” she says, “a Catholic education is a true gift. My parents sacrificed a lot to provide that to me and my siblings. I know that what we do in Catholic Schools makes a difference to the child, to the family.”
It’s a win-win situation for all her students- for all students in a Catholic School. Not only do the kids gain a full education that they can build on, they also gain a firm spiritual foundation as well.
“I do feel that G-d called me here,” she says.
I think G-d calls all teachers. It’s a vocation that is divine in that it takes a strength beyond oneself to teach, to care for so many kids year after year.
That drive, that passion, it comes from G-d, and I am glad the Catholic Diocese of El Paso not only recognizes that in their teachers but encourages it as well.