Miranda Martinez has taught kindergarten at St. Catherine of Siena School, Rialto, for 5 years. This has been the first school she has taught at since graduating from the University of California, San Diego in 2016.
As part of our series on Catholic School teachers in the Diocese, Martinez sat down with the BYTE to tell us a little about herself and her life as a teacher at St. Catherine of Siena.
BYTE: What do you enjoy about teaching kindergarten?
Martinez: It’s like getting inside the mind of a child. I think as adults, we become almost set in our ways. It’s reminded me that there’s always a learner inside of you, and that children can teach us so much as adults if we listen to them and pay attention to what they have to say, and just get a peek inside of how the mind of a child processes and understands.
BYTE: What have been some challenges that you’ve had to face while teaching?
Martinez: One of the challenges for sure was going into the COVID year and seeing all the effects that that had. I thought I had it down, you know; I was being given these really cool opportunities from the Diocese, to be part of the master teachers and help train new teachers. Then last year with the children who were affected by the pandemic, that really made me question if I was cut out to be a teacher. I was like, oh my goodness, am I a good teacher?
It was a learning process together. [The kindergarten students] had never been to school. I had never had a class during COVID. So together we conquered the year. It was really tough at first, but at the end of the year, it was really bittersweet to see them go, even though it was one of the more challenging years. You have a special love for those kids who teach you so much more and challenge you.
BYTE: Could you tell me more about what Master Teachers is?
Martinez: In 2019, when I was going into my third year of teaching, [Office of Catholic Schools Associate Superintendent] Maribel Arguelles asked my principal if I wanted to hop onboard and speak with newly hired teachers, ones that were going to have their first year teaching. She called me and few other teachers, “master teachers,” to help different grade levels, just talk with them, give them pointers, kind of guide them through the first few days.
So I did that back in 2019 and then I also got a chance to do it again just this August. Maribel has been really helpful to me in giving me different experiences, not only as a teacher, but also in helping other teachers with all of the things that I do and sharing them in that way. I definitely don’t take it for granted, her seeing the potential in me to have me speak to new teachers despite having not so as much experience of some of the other teachers in the Diocese, but I think I bring a lot of fresh and new ideas as a younger teacher.
BYTE: What drew you to teach in the first place? Was it something you always wanted to do growing up?
Martinez: I had a teacher who inspired me to be a teacher. Back in 10th grade, I had this teacher, and at the beginning of the year, she gave us this survey that asked your favorite and least favorite subject, and I was like, “History is so boring. That’s my least favorite.” And she was a history teacher, and she was like, “OK, I think I might be able to change that by the end of the year.”
And oh my gosh, she was so theatrical, and I was on the edge of my seat and could not wait to go to her class. It actually inspired me not only to be a teacher but to major in history and education studies. She had such an impact on me and I had never wanted to be a teacher before that.
BYTE: What would you say your favorite thing about teaching is?
Martinez: My favorite thing about teaching is the ability to work with children, and like I had mentioned earlier, kind of get inside of their minds and hear the way that they think, and provide them with opportunities to express themselves and recognizing each child’s different unique abilities and setting up these different activities that allow them to show who they are.
I think as a kid I always felt misunderstood or felt like I was different, and seeing these kids how different they are and celebrating them for exactly who they are and what they are and how they think, is something that I know I could have used as a kid. So being able to influence and pay attention to kids in that way now is what really makes me come back every single day to be a teacher.
I was never brought up in Catholic education, I was a product of public schools. So not having that background and seeing how interested, even from a young age, children are learning about that and exploring their faith and deepening their faith at such a young age is very inspiring. It also keeps me as a teacher reminded of lessons, simple lessons, of Jesus and his teachings of loving and caring and taking care of one another and forgiveness. Those are skills that, as adults, we kind of become stubborn in our ways, and seeing it through the lens of a child and how receptive they are of those ideas and teachings always keeps me thinking about my faith.
BYTE: To ask a little bit about you, do you have a favorite saint or Bible verse? And what do you like to do in your free time?
Martinez: I ran the Boston Marathon this past spring and I’m training for another marathon right now. So running is kind of like my second thing that I love doing aside from being a teacher. That takes up a lot of my time; sometimes I call it my second job.
I also love to bake cinnamon rolls. As a baker, you keep trying all these different things, kind of like a teacher. You keep trying different recipes, different methods until you find the one that works.
And then my favorite saint, probably St. Francis of Assisi.
BYTE: Was there anything else you wanted to add before we end?
Martinez: One last thing is that I’m a really strong advocate for play-based learning. Kindergarten has become so academic and rigorous, and we want our students to be challenged academically, but also I think we should embrace that kids are still kids. If we can integrate play into their learning, it will keep them engaged a lot longer than just forcing on them a lot of the rigor.