Last night, I had the privilege of attending City College of New York’s Education Alumni Annual Awards Dinner. Even though I am an esteemed alum of the College, I was actually attending on behalf of my good friend Zuleika Martinez, social studies teacher, teacher leader, and aspiring superstar at an alternative high school in Queens. Last night, watching her receive an award was probably the highlight of my month. If anyone deserves an award for their tireless efforts, it’s my faux-big-sister and a proud educator.
What most people don’t know about Zuleika is that she’s one of the reasons I survived my first year. She was my social studies counterpart next door to my classroom. Sharing an 8th grade class assured that I would always have her around, even when I least expected it. She was also every bit my opposite during that first year: organized, structured, focused, experienced, and armed with serious classroom management skills.
But she was also better than me in another respect: she had much more heart.
She loved her profession and the kids she serviced more than I could have at that point, even if she didn’t emote that to them. The attention and care she put into every lesson was evident the minute you walked past any of her classrooms, and the school had to respect that, if not adore her. After she left on to bigger and better things, I was reminded why she was great: there was one less classroom where I could recommend anyone and everyone to walk into where I knew there’d be great teaching going on. It’s no diss on my school, but the caliber of a teacher who, for 180 days, gave you every drop of their energy for the profession is inspiring for us mere mortals.
Thus, watching her professor laud her personally while ignoring the pre-printed biography in our programs, I felt so proud for this CCNY Teacher of the Year. I know I’m not good with showing my appreciation for others’ contributions to my life in person, but I hope this serves as testament that #iknowateacher who made me want to be better.
Thanks, Ms. Martinez.
Jose, who wonders if you know a teacher, too …