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Teacher Voice

Teaching Is...Seeing Their True Colors

You, with the sad eyes. Don’t be discouraged… I enter a room full of students who have had their elementary, middle and high schools close on them throughout their education, due to poor attendance and low test scores. Their 75-year-old Denver high school is in its final year, and I teach at one of the two new six-12 schools taking its place, all under the same roof. For some, it’s a beginning, and for others, an end. Children swing in the balance. I remember my first day entering the school. I watched two girls walk to class with the speed of tortoises. Remnants of lunch—pizza crusts, paper trays and spilled milk—litter the hallway. Someone’s unfinished homework soaked up the vitamin D. Things are getting better. Things are changing. I see your true colors shining through, and that’s why I love you… Teaching is finding beauty in a just-polished hallway, gleaming like a yellow brick road promising a brighter future. It’s hugging a child who has been made fun of for wearing the same sweatshirt every day. It’s providing hope when a child has no faith in any adults but you. It’s the same as any other day. I’m standing outside my classroom, holding the door open for students to cross the threshold. They know that they are expected to enter “as professionals,” and today is no exception. I hear them argue just on the other side of the stairwell, where whispers are magnified like an amphitheater. She’s urging him to go to class. He wants another kiss. My steps heavy in my Payless pumps, “Let’s get to class, darlings,” I say. “You’re late. Let’s go.” They linger just a second longer. “Okay, Miss,” he says, and their hands take forever to part. She’s on her way to college. He has another year. His dad left for good this time. He wants to stay a little longer. …Don’t be afraid to let them show… Teaching is meeting students where they live and finding common ground with them. It’s remembering what it was like to be young and scared and powerless. It’s helping them to make ethical decisions long before their frontal lobe is mature, helping them despite the pushback they sometimes give. It’s about being a real person with them, relating to their youth—not feeling sorry for them, but helping them to feel empowered and find their voices. There are five more Mondays before the end of the year. That means there are 15 remaining instructional days for my five classes as I compose this. “That’s not enough time,” I think to myself, as I do every year. I can always show them more, and I giggle thinking about the loud sighs they make when I tell them “it’s been a pleasure doing business with you” at the end of the week, along with my messages of “work hard this weekend” and “make healthy choices.” “Yes Miss,” they say, “you say that every Friday.” I mean it, too. …Your true colors are beautiful, like a rainbow. Teaching is leaving a little piece of your heart with every student, making the minutes we have with them count. Of course teaching is content- and lesson-planning, but the magic happens when they are learning and contributing because they know they are being heard and they know their opinions matter, even if they differ from the norm. I lock my classroom door, on the way to another meeting after school. The last bell rang hours ago. I have my list of things to do tomorrow placed squarely on my desk, and the metal door closes loudly behind me. I am a teacher at West High School. I carry the tradition of this community—teaching kids that they can be proud of their community and their school. I forge ahead, planning for a new West, pioneering a new future for kids who are just like me.
Jozette Martinez is an eighth-generation Coloradan who teaches middle and high school business at an urban Denver public school. She is a teacher leader, feminist and activist working to enhance equity and inclusion in her school, district, state and nation. She blogs for the Center for Teaching Quality at The Bottom Line.
Jozette Martinez is an eighth-generation Coloradan who teaches middle and high school business at an urban Denver public school. She is a teacher leader, feminist and activist working to enhance equity and inclusion in her school, district, state and nation. She blogs for the Center for Teaching Quality at The Bottom Line.

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