To Serve Bilingual Students, This Future Teacher Will Draw on Her Own Experience

Viridiana Martinez’s family immigrated twice when she was in elementary school — once, from Mexico to Canada, and a second time to the United States. With each move, she had to learn a new language and adjust to a different culture.

During those transitions, Martinez was both challenged and uplifted, often by kind teachers and mentors whom she met at school.

Now a college graduate, the 21-year-old is channeling her lived experiences into a career path.

This fall, Martinez will become a bilingual teacher for students in kindergarten through eighth grade in Morgan Hill, a small city near San Jose, California, as part of the next Teach for America cohort. Her teacher training begins in June.

Martinez knows that there is a dearth of bilingual teachers in the United States, and she wants to help fill the gap. But more than that, she wants to encourage bilingual students and English language learners the way other teachers did for her. Along the way, she says, she wants to help students identify their strengths and find their voices.

At a time when the teaching profession is in decline, with fewer young people entering the field, EdSurge is following individuals pursuing careers in the classroom anyway. What motivates them? What worries them? And why are they undeterred?

In our Future Teachers series, we ask these questions to aspiring educators on the cusp of entering the classroom. In this installment, we’re featuring Martinez.

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Viridiana Martinez

Name: Viridiana Martinez

Age: 21

Current town: Berkeley, California

College: University of California, Berkeley

Intends to teach: Bilingual education in a K-8 school

Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico

EdSurge: What is your earliest memory of a teacher?

Viridiana Martinez: The earliest memory I have of a teacher is my first grade teacher in Mexico. She was stern, but also very loving. She always had very high expectations of her students, and that is something that I really appreciated about her. She believed her students could achieve great things.

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Viridiana Martinez with her first grade teacher in Monterrey, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Martinez)

When did you realize that you might want to become a teacher?

I worked in an elementary school as part of my education minor at the University of California, Berkeley, during my junior year, and I think that had a great impact on me. I would have one-on-one sessions with students so they could practice and enhance their reading skills and fluency. I really enjoyed working with my students, and seeing them improve made me feel super proud of them. I’ve wanted to go into the teaching profession ever since then.

That would’ve been in college for you. What had you been thinking you might want to do before that?

Before, I wanted to study psychology … but I didn’t know exactly what path I wanted to take. Then, as I added my education and child development minors, [my classes] sparked my interest in going into teaching. I didn’t have a specific plan or career picked out previously. I was just kind of going with the flow, really.

I knew that I wanted to work with children. I just didn’t know what profession yet. Teaching did cross my mind. Then, as I went through this experience and started working with students, it solidified for me that I definitely wanted to become a teacher.

Did you ever reconsider?

I don’t think so. I went through a lot of ideas of what careers I could go into, but nothing really felt as fulfilling as teaching, so I stuck with it.

Did your own experiences in school have any influence on your decision to pursue this career?

Yeah. I attended schools in California that have predominantly Latino populations, and I did have a few Latino teachers that were able to help me learn English. I think that sense of community and support from my own teachers and counselors helped me decide that this was something that I wanted to do.

I understand that you had to learn a couple different languages as part of your schooling. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

I was born in Mexico and lived there until I was 7 years old. Then I moved to a French-speaking region in Canada with my family, so I had to learn French in addition to everything else that comes from moving countries. There was a shift in culture and in school.

Then, about three years later, my family and I moved again, to California, so I had to learn English and readjust all over again. I have been in California ever since.

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Viridiana Martinez sees snow for the first time after moving with her family from Mexico to Canada. (Photo courtesy of Martinez)

Were there any teachers, coaches or counselors who helped you through those transitions that stand out to you?

Absolutely. I came to California when I was in fifth grade, and I had two teachers that were amazing. They always made me feel included in the classroom. They made sure that I had access to learning the language — for example, they labeled the items in the classroom for me in Spanish and English. And they explained my situation to the other students in the class so that they could understand the position I was in.

Were there other English language learners in your classes?

Not in fifth grade, but years later, when I was in middle school and high school, I did meet students who were just learning English as their second language.

Tell me about your decision to apply for Teach for America.

I heard about Teach for America during my last semester at UC Berkeley, and I thought it was a perfect step for me. I attended one of their in-person events and met multiple people who were part of the program and were able to answer my questions. I ended up applying shortly after attending the event. I chose this program because they offered great communication and support, which is exactly what I was looking for.

My goal is to become a full-time classroom teacher.

Why are you interested in teaching bilingual K-8 classes?

I am very passionate about teaching in bilingual classrooms. I [want to help students] overcome language barriers and cultural barriers. My experience moving countries twice and having to learn a new language twice has given me a lot of insight into what students go through and what I can do to help them to succeed in the classroom.

Why do you want to become a teacher?

I think that it is a very fulfilling profession. Everyone wants the next generations to excel in academics and be able to have a bright future. I want to make sure that the next generation has the right support [to succeed].

In college, during my experience [tutoring] at the elementary school, I had a student who inspired me. It wasn’t until the end of our session, but we had a little survey for them with questions about how their sessions went, whether they felt like they learned anything, that sort of thing. One of the questions was what they wanted to do when they grow up, and this particular student said that they wanted to be a tutor just like me. That just really solidified it for me.

What gives you hope about becoming a teacher?

Just having an impact on the next generation is what gives me hope. I’m excited to show them what their strengths are, help them see that they can speak on their own and that they can make a difference if they believe in themselves.

What worries you or gives you pause about becoming a teacher?

I have heard that many teachers have noticed a big setback in students’ math and reading skills since the pandemic. It was a very difficult time for both teachers and students, which unfortunately resulted in slower learning. My biggest worry is how this will actually play out in the classroom and what I can do to effectively support my students.

Why does the field need you right now?

We need more bilingual teachers. That is really important. There are so many schools that have students that are either currently trying to learn English as their second language or are bilingual. They deserve to have access to bilingual programs with bilingual teachers that can support them to excel academically. And I think that my own experiences will allow me to provide enriching bilingual classes to students.

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