Flowery teacher models perseverance and grit

Ana Martinez teaches her 29 second-graders at Flowery Elementary School reading and math, science and social studies, and English and Spanish using her highly professional skills. She also teaches them by her example and wonderful life lessons: Never give up. Learn a second language. Be kind. Volunteer. Smile. Love your family.

Martinez exemplifies success, and it didn’t come easy.

Born in Mexico, the fifth of 10 children, she was accepted to the University of Mexico but couldn’t attend because she had to stay home and take care of her younger siblings. Then, while visiting her brother in Santa Rosa, she began dating Alfonso, an American citizen, who came to see her three times after she returned to Mexico, proving that he loved her and that marrying him and moving here was a great idea.

They had two children, Annabel and Orlando, and as soon as Annabel started school, Martinez began volunteering in her classroom, almost every day. Soon there was an opening for a teacher’s aide position, and Annabel’s teacher encouraged her to apply. Martinez did not speak English, but she got the job in a school where half the students spoke Spanish. “It was easy for me to be a mom and work at the same school my children went to,” she said.

She went to Santa Rosa Junior College, taking general education and English as a second language classes, while still working as a teacher’s aide and raising her family. “It took me forever,” she laughs now. Ten years to be exact, but she never gave up. When she finally finished, her kids were in high school, and she entered Sonoma State in the work/study program with a double major in Latino studies and Spanish, while tutoring with AmeriCorps.

She graduated in 2005, did her student teaching at a dual-immersion school in Windsor and then took the test for her credential. After all those years of being in the classroom and studying so hard, she didn’t pass the test. “It was heartbreaking, but I didn’t give up,” Martinez said. She worked as a substitute teacher at Flowery and took the test again. “My grammar and vocabulary are still much better in Spanish than in English,” she said, and the test is given in English. On the third try, she passed.

In 2007, she began teaching at Flowery, where she teaches only one class a day, English, in English. She is a dedicated and exuberant teacher who her students clearly love. She arrives at 7:30 a.m. and is usually in her classroom until 5 p.m., and always puts in a few hours on the weekends. Last December, she returned to taking classes at Sonoma State University, working toward her master’s in Spanish with an emphasis in literature. “I want to keep going,” she said.

She is also on the Common Core Steering Committee, representing the district in Sacramento.

“I have a passion for teaching,” she said. “I love it. That’s why I’m here.” And she believes completely in the dual-immersion program. “If you speak two languages, you can communicate with twice as many people,” said Martinez, who also became an American citizen. “Children embrace being bilingual.”

Martinez just celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary with Alfonso, so they took a special trip to Seattle and Canada on the Christmas break. They have a lot to celebrate. They have great careers. Annabel has a college degree and a terrific job and Orlando is finishing up college. “Alfonso is a wonderful husband. He lets me go, he lets me do what I want to do,” she said.

And the very first thing she wanted to do, way back in the beginning, was to volunteer at the school.

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t volunteer,” Martinez said, with the huge smile that seems never to leave her face.