Chronicle of a teaching life
By ASA HESS-MATSUMOTO / Towns Correspondent
Two binders full of memories lay stretched across her desk, chock-full with grateful letters and photos. Most come from graduates – now nurses, accountants, and some even teachers like herself – thankful for all the help she gave in guiding them through their four years through high school. Brushing the binder’s contents lovingly with her hand, retired Santa Rosa High School teacher Yolanda Martinez, 66, said these tokens of appreciation made for the best pay she ever received.
“I wish I had not cried as much,” Martinez said laughing. “The first few years after I left I felt so guilty. I’m living here right across from a school. I would get up early and I would see the teachers coming in and I would tell myself, ‘oh my goodness, what am I doing? I should still be working.”
An accomplished teacher, author, and poet, Martinez decided to share her experiences across a 22-year teaching career in her recently published book, “Classroom 101: Memories of Teaching.”
From beginning to end, the book’s 52 pages reveal both the good and the bad: from graduations and tournament trophies to teen pregnancies and suicide.
“We don’t really see what happens in the classrooms – the realities of teaching,” Martinez said. “There are the simple things to deal with, and then there are very difficult situations to deal with.”
Moving from Mexico to start high school at El Molino at the age of 15, Martinez said she didn’t know she wanted to get into teaching until after graduating from Sonoma State University.
“Originally I thought I was going to be a secretary because of what my grandmother told me,” Martinez said. “While I was at SSU, however, I was learning English – I promised myself to learn the language until I was good enough to teach it.”
Martinez said her bilingualism served as an important asset for her and to her students. She taught both Spanish and English language arts, Spanish for Spanish speakers, English as a Second language. Additionally, Martinez taught in the school’s Score for College courses – a program designed for minority or disadvantaged youth designated in middle school as possessing college potential.
“Classroom 101” offers a passing glimpse into Martinez’s time as a bilingual teacher. Because she was SRHS’s only bilingual staff member for her first few years of employment, Martinez had to represent many students and parents who she said were otherwise unheard.
“When I wrote this book, I wanted to also point out some of the injustices I witnessed to the minority students,” Martinez said. “These were students who were always getting their classes cut.”
Martinez said she knew of one student who was misplaced into a special education program because he didn’t know enough English. After being consistently denied re-classification by the Santa Rosa School District Office, Martinez threatened to bring the case to the California Rural Legal Assistance lawyers. The students was then retested and successfully reclassified.
“I feel what they feel,” Martinez said. “I sense what they are going through, and that’s what makes me a special teacher than if I had ignored them – than if I had just showed up and taught my lesson. That would have been so easy.”
Sitting at home just across from Helen M. Lehman Elementary and only two miles from rows of desks she used to lecture in front of, Martinez hopes her book can be one more lesson for those who would want to teach.
“I think that most teachers come out and are just, I’m going to say ‘thrown,’ into the classroom and must handle it the best they can,” Martinez said. “I’m giving advice, even indirectly. You have to think the way the students think, feel what they feel, and cry with them and laugh with them.”
You can reach Yolanda Martinez at 546-7688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.