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Unexpected journey

Lupe Martinez’s life was changed by education, so he’s spent his career paying it forward.

June 18, 2015

Associate Professor Lupe Martinez’s life was changed by education; he’s spent his career paying it forward. Photo: Sara Hertwig
Associate Professor Lupe Martinez’s life was changed by education; he’s spent his career paying it forward. Photo: Sara Hertwig

Lupe Martinez, associate professor in the School of Education, never imagined he would earn a doctorate. In fact, he never thought he would go to college.

“I didn’t even know where the local colleges were located,” he said, “let alone think about attending one. My mother, bless her heart as she didn’t know better, told me that 10th grade was more than enough school.”

This was in 1950s San Francisco. Martinez was a young man from the Mission District, then a “tough” neighborhood. As a teenager, he was in a gang. He wound up in reform school, which he described as the “norm,” and eventually, the Army. During his service, he was able to earn his GED, and afterwards, decided to give college a try.

He has never looked back.

“I was so turned on by learning, participating in civil rights and the environment,” he said. “I couldn’t understand why other students were complaining about assignments. I was working on the docks while I went to school, unloading bananas off boats. I knew I didn’t want to do that forever. I thought learning was the life.”

After college, Martinez joined the Teacher’s Corp. During that time he was a kindergarten and 4th grade elementary school teacher in his old neighborhood, interacting with children who reminded him of his younger self. He earned his master’s degree as part of that program and ultimately attained his doctorate.

As a professor at MSU Denver for the past 25 years, Martinez has gotten to share lessons gleaned from his life and career with the next generation of educators. He teaches courses in diversity, classroom management and curriculum, and language arts and social studies.

The highlight of his MSU Denver career has been the development and implementation of an urban teaching preparation partnership program, which has been going strong for more than 15 years.

Students who sign up for the program learn and work in Denver Public School’s (DPS) Math Science Leadership Academy (MSLA) for two semesters. In the fall, students enroll in a classroom management and curriculum course taught by Martinez and a K-6 writing class with another instructor. The same students return in the spring and enroll in a language arts and social studies class with Martinez and an advanced literacy course with another instructor. The students also are required to complete 50 hours of fieldwork per semester, but generally surpass that requirement because they become an integrated part of the school community. The students co-teach with mentor-teachers and also manage and teach the whole class in all content areas.

“This model was designed to get our students off campus and into real schools before they start their official student-teaching,” said Martinez. “A future teacher needs to be where the kids are, where they can put their learning into practice.”

Martinez credits the success of this program to a team effort, starting with education department chair Lisa Altemueller and other department faculty, as well as like-minded teachers at the academy. He presented this model, which has been refined and improved over the years, at an international conference in Barcelona, Spain, in 2013 and at a conference in San Francisco in 2014.

Housing the program in a public school, he notes, offers many advantages. MSLA classroom teachers often guest-teach Martinez’s courses, for example, sharing practical advice and tips. And while they do so, Martinez keeps his own skills sharp by filling in for the teacher in his or her own classroom. Another benefit is that MSU Denver students develop a professional network, which often leads to jobs in the DPS system after graduation.

As an added bonus, Martinez’s students build a community with one another, creating a family environment that mirrors the type of atmosphere they will try to bring to their future classrooms.

That is meaningful for Martinez, who sees education as so much more than a job. He sees it as a lifeline.

“Great teachers instill hope in their students, making them believe that they can accomplish anything. That’s how education changes lives,” he said.

Martinez knows from experience.

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