As spring progresses, Humanities Texas continues to travel to schools across the state to recognize teachers who are making an outstanding impact in the lives of their students. In this month's Teacher Feature, we are thrilled to highlight two 2016 Outstanding Teaching Award recipients who recently received their awards during ceremonies at their respective schools.
On February 21, 2017, Humanities Texas staff member and Laredo native Marco Buentello traveled to LBJ High School to present Ana Cristina Martinez with the James F. Veninga Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award. The ceremony was held in the school library and included performances from the school band and remarks from both LBJ High School and United ISD representatives.
Martinez teaches Spanish and AP Spanish language and culture at LBJ High School, where she has taught for fourteen years.
"Mrs. Martinez is a great role model to her students and peers," said LBJ High School assistant principal Ruben Rangel. "Ana works with many different personalities to assure that goals are established to benefit our campus visions. Students are given the knowledge and experience to succeed beyond the walls of this classroom."
In her classroom, Martinez uses technology, dramatic productions, and other creative methods to teach Spanish. She also prioritizes community engagement. In 2014, she created Pasos de Éxito, an initiative that consists of a website, radio show, and free workshops that alert members of the local Spanish-speaking community to scholarship and educational opportunities.
"Spanish is a beautiful language," said Martinez. "I have to present the language as a painting where the students will be able to describe, interpret, infer, analyze, and, finally, create their own masterpieces. I knew we would accomplish it by reading, speaking, listening, and writing."
Students and teachers gathered in the Heritage High School lecture hall on February 28, 2017, to watch as Denise Voss, a representative from State Senator Van Taylor's office, and Humanities Texas staff member Sam Moore presented Michelle Valliere with an Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities Award.
Valliere teaches humanities and AP language and composition at Heritage High School, where she also serves as the English language arts department chair. In 2014, she was integral to the development of the humanities program in her district that combines AP world history with Pre-AP English I. Valliere currently co-teaches this course with former Outstanding Teaching Award winner Gabe Fain.
"In the classroom, Michelle continues to champion the humanities, sharing her love of new learning and discovery as she approaches new titles in the world," said Fain. "Her commitment to world literature has enriched our students' study of world history and provided them with a deeper understanding of culture, the use of language, and the commonalities all people share and express through their art."
The humanities course models and facilitates an interdisciplinary style of learning. Valliere and Fain design lessons that traverse curricular boundaries, exploring different subjects, time periods, and genres that might typically be taught in separate courses. In one lesson, students analyzed classic Roman poetry, twelfth-century Persian poetry, and love songs by the Beatles and Eric Clapton to explore the archetype of the star-crossed lover in art and music over time.
"I want my students to see how the past influences the future," said Valliere. "I want them to connect how the rise and fall of civilizations and empires and the accompanying changes in culture, beliefs, and artistic expression represent the invisible changes in human thought."