Teachers Talk Back: Claudia Martinez

Claudia Martinez is in her third year of teaching and is currently teaching eighth-graders at KIPP Philosophers Academy. In this conversation with E4E-Los Angeles Outreach Director Claire Blide, Claudia shares what drew her to the classroom and why she decided to join E4E.

This interview has been condensed and edited with the interviewee’s approval.

Claire Blide (CB): Why did you become a teacher?

Claudia Martinez: My elementary school teacher, Ms. Vance, made me love reading. The way she spoke to students made me feel so trusted, smart and mature in her class. She encouraged us to become leaders and gave us time to read independently, which sparked a love of reading in me. In middle school, high school and college, reading was never something I was afraid to do but something I was excited to do because of Ms. Vance. She was such an empowering teacher for me. Similarly, my high school teacher, Mrs. Borum, pushed our class to read many books. We read a dozen books a year, which is a testament to her high expectations for us. In my AP class, a majority of the class was Latina like me, and she had such high expectations for what we were reading and how we were talking about the books. This showed me that just because I’m Latina, it doesn’t mean I have to have lower standards for myself and what I can accomplish. These experiences made me want to teach kids that look like me and make them feel the way those teachers made me feel.

CB: What is your favorite lesson to teach? Why?

CM: My favorite lesson to teach is a poetry lesson on Robert Browning’s poem “Meeting at Night.” It really challenges my students to dig into the text. When I read this poem for the first time, even as an English major, I found it very hard to understand. Once you break it down and focus on the imagery, tone and mood, it finally becomes more clear. Watching my students struggle with it but then break down the poem and discover that it’s about a secret relationship is really cool to see. All of a sudden they start comparing it to the movie Twilight.

CB: What is one piece of advice you would give to other teachers?

CM: Find a group of teachers with whom you can plan, observe teaching and have dinner. What saves me and keeps me invested in education are other teachers with whom I have made deep friendships and really trust.

CB: What made did you decide to join E4E?

CM: I think it is very important for teachers to have a voice. Someone who teaches in Watts like me can explain how policies impact their students and those stories can really change a person’s perspective. When you get to hear the perspective of a teacher, it is more powerful than just reading a report on the issue.

CB: What would you like to see change for teachers?

CM: I think teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world, so I would like to see more respect for the profession. With greater respect, we would see more people wanting to come in and teach. What I mean by respect is that our opinions and voices are valued and our experiences are heard. All voices, all teachers, every experience, whether in a public, charter or private school. At the end of the day, the profession must be respected because we’re doing what’s best for kids.