A calling and heart for teaching

As a bilingual teacher and as an immigrant herself, Vinola Martinez knows firsthand the needs of her students, and in her 23 years as a teacher she has become a model of what can be achieved through hard work and perseverance. 

A fourth-grade self-contained bilingual teacher at George W. Truett Elementary School, Martinez was born in South Africa to a family of East Indian descent but came to the Dallas area when she was a baby. She didn’t grow up speaking Spanish as her students have, but knows the struggles they experience and teaches them how if you really want to achieve something you must work hard, be tenacious, and have determination. She sometimes shares stories of her journey with students. Many of them can relate to her experiences. Before moving to Truett Elementary, Martinez  worked at Charles Gill Elementary School for 22 years. 

“My parents were immigrants to this country, and they had to start over and start from scratch,” she said. “My mom never had the opportunity to become a nurse in South Africa but was able to get her nursing degree several years after we moved to the United States. My dad had to change his career once we moved here. He went from working for a government agency in South Africa to becoming a risk manager.”

“I saw how hard my parents worked, and it inspired me in my career,” she said. “They taught me to keep going and to not give up because there are going to be challenges in life—but you have to persevere.” 

Empathy and understanding are things Martinez practices in her classroom, acknowledging that many of her students, although they are young, understand that life can be tough.. 

Last semester, Martinez was selected to serve on a TEA committee with other educators statewide to provide their expertise on assessments such as STAAR, STAAR Alternative 2, and TELPAS. This summer, she has been invited back to serve on the committee and will provide feedback specifically on TELPAS, which is an exam that measures the level of English language fluency in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. 

It’s important for educators like her, who are actively working with students in the classroom, to serve on committees like these, she said. There’s much to take into consideration, as many of her students have parents who didn’t finish school and the demands of the academic language of the tests are challenging for them, she said.

“There are these academic gaps that our students come to us with, and we as educators have to fill in those gaps,” Martinez said. “We have to see it from a student’s perspective, as well. They may not write an eloquent essay because they don’t have the age or the cognitive level yet, but that’s what we strive for, to get them there.”

One of the things she enjoys the most is seeing her students grow—many of them returning to visit or contacting her to show their gratitude. 

“I received an email from a former student, 16 years after she was in my class,” Martinez said. “She wanted me to know that she is a teacher now and that she said she will never forget how I encouraged her when she first came to school here.” 

A student Martinez taught in second and third grades is one she will never forget. She would visit and tell her she was going to invite her former teacher to her wedding. She did, and Martinez made sure to attend. 

“I was overwhelmed with emotion to  be able to share that special moment with her and her family,” she said. In time, Martinez also taught the former student’s son in fifth grade. It’s these full circle moments, she said, that are among the many reasons she loves being an educator.

Martinez has celebrated the students who have come back and shared with her the good things they are doing in life and has felt the pain of their losses, as well. 

“I care for each one of them as if they were one of my own children,” Martinez said.

She recognizes that education is constantly evolving and remembers how much technology has changed. She remembers making transparencies to present information to the class on a projector, and now she is using Google Slide.

“You’re always learning in this profession because education is constantly evolving due to technology and societal factors,” she said. “I think the only thing that stays the same is the love you have for your students and the passion you have for this profession.” 

Martinez hopes to inspire students with her mindset to continue learning even as adults and to know that no matter what challenges they face in life, they can overcome them.

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