Anna Martinez: “Helping students the best way I can.”

Anna Martinez is a proud army brat who has lived all over the world, but who has managed to stay in Virginia since the fourth grade. She earned her Master of Teaching degree with a concentration in early and elementary education from the VCU School of Education in 2017. She teaches third grade at J.L. Francis Elementary School in Richmond, and is currently pursuing her M.Ed. in Reading in the K-12/TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) concentration.

Headshot of Anna Martinez, who earned her Master of Teaching degree from the VCU School of Education in 2017.
Anna Martinez

Was it tough growing up as an army brat?

There were challenges, just like there are for the kids in my classroom who move here from other countries. You feel very transient. You typically make new friends halfway through a school year, when everybody already has friends.

Partly because of these challenges, I wish that everybody could move around as a child like I did. It was such a good experience! I got some traveling done while I was young. In comparison, my boyfriend didn't leave this country until we went on a cruise. That was the first time he ever got a passport. I had a passport when I was four years old!

Why did you pick VCU SOE for both of your graduate degrees?

I like the diversity at VCU and within the School of Education. I applied to four Virginia colleges as an undergrad, and I was accepted into all four. When I visited the other schools, I noticed that everyone there looked the same. They all did their practicums at schools where everybody looked the same. I didn’t want to teach in that environment. Meanwhile, VCU SOE and Richmond Public Schools had the diversity that I was looking for. I liked the program that I was in – Liberal Studies for Early and Elementary Education – which allowed me to pursue my undergraduate degree and my Master of Teaching degree simultaneously. I was also living in Richmond at the time, and I wanted to stay here.

Why are you pursuing the M.Ed. in Reading with TESOL/K-12?

I love teaching and I love my classroom, but I'm pursuing the TESOL/K-12 master’s degree because 50 percent of my class is made up of English language learners. Each year, another student enters our school from another country. I want to be able to help them in the best way I can. I always wanted to teach English as a second language, and I’ve always been interested in reading. For me, the M.Ed. in Reading program was the perfect storm.

“I’ve always wanted to teach English as a second language, and I’ve always been interested in reading. For me, this program is the perfect storm!”

How do you suggest supporting ESL (English as a Second Language) students so they feel more welcomed in the classroom?

It’s important to create a community that's accepting, where some students are trying to learn English and other students are trying to learn Spanish. In my class, prior to the pandemic, the students walked around the room at the end of the day, pointed to something, and said, ‘What’s this?’ First, they said it in Spanish, and then they said it in English. That’s what you want: an accepting environment where students aren’t afraid to make a mistake.

How has the M.Ed. in Reading program helped you so far?

It’s been helpful in two ways. First, I want to learn Spanish, so it’s been nice to learn best practices for second language acquisition. Second, knowing how kids learn has been really helpful. Looking back, I wish that all students in the LSEE program had to take an ESL-based class just like they have to take a SPED-based (special education) class, because so many more ESL students come into the school system every year. Even if you think you’re working in a school that’s predominantly English speaking, that could change very quickly.

Why should people enroll in the M.Ed. in Reading with TESOL/K-12 program?

It's always better to know more about students for whom English is a second language. Your professional growth will help with your teaching ability, no matter what you choose to do. Even if you want to move into administration, a background in ESL or in reading will help you better advocate for your students.

What have you learned so far that you’ve been able to implement in the classroom?

In both my cohort and my classes, I’ve learned different methods of explaining things to my students, so they can fully understand what I'm talking about. For example, I've been using more pictures, written and verbal instruction, as well as pictures and modeling, to get my point across. Students are capable. I always knew that, but it’s nice when you see it in class.