School Closures: Words of Wisdom from San Diego's 2019 Teachers of the Year

Posted: Friday, March 20th 2020


The halls are empty at schools in San Diego and across the nation, but despite the challenges of this situation, we are hearing stories every day of the many ways our teachers are achieving success.

We thought it would be a good opportunity to check in with some outstanding educators who lead by example - our reigning San Diego Unified Teachers of the Year.

We checked in with the 2019 honorees to ask about their experience in the first few days of this unprecedented school closure, and their thoughts on how educators can make the most of this difficult time.

Hilda Martinez, Zamorano Fine Arts Academy

Q: How are you holding up so far?

A: The first few days of the coronavirus crisis I was just in shock. I was just trying to navigate all the information by watching the news, and then I tried to get unglued from the news.

When Governor Newsom said we could be shut down through the rest of the school year, I broke down in tears. I constantly think about my students. I want to make sure they’re propelled forward, so learning doesn’t become static. I’m still trying to process everything that’s going on and waiting to see when we can move forward.

Q: What do you see as the larger teaching moment from what we’re all going through right now?

A: From a non-school aspect, it’s a time to refocus and to be with family. We’re so blessed and grateful to have resources around us. I’m trying to incorporate lessons at home. For instance, I’m not just preparing a meal. For my daughter, it’s home economics! I’m trying to take the negativity off the situation. I’m curious to see what innovative things come from this. We can all take away lessons of humility, gratefulness and connecting with family and community. I’m also in a text thread with several teachers at Zamorano where we boost each other up. It’s a chance to check in on others when you’re not so rushed, and simply ask how someone is doing.

Roosevelt Johnson, Wilson Middle School

Q: How has it been being at home while schools are closed?

A: It’s hard for teachers to just sit at home, especially when you’re not doing a lot. It’s not in our DNA.

Q: Have you had any chances to promote learning during the break?

A: I’ve been keeping up with what’s going on in San Diego and Sacramento regarding education. I have plans to reach out to parents and give guidance for resources. I hope those who are graduating get a chance to move on in the traditional way by being recognized. That’s important.

Q: What do you see as the larger life lesson in this current crisis?

A: One parent of a student told me their kid grabbed some spray paint from the garage, took it outside, and spray painted a message on the concrete that asked God for help. Kids are stressing out, parents are stressing out. The best thing we can do right now is focus on our health, and the simple day-to-day activities where we can all help each other out.

Q: Is the “Man Up” Club continuing?

A: We have a website where everyone in the club can communicate. I plan to reach out to the students next week. We’re a year-round school so before we left for this break, I told my students to stay safe, reflect and use the time to connect with family.

Jenny Lieu, Lincoln High School

Q: Have you had a chance to get in touch with families or students?

A: I’ve been communicating with parents who have reached out to me. But like them, I have more questions than answers.

Q: How much do you miss the students?

A: I’m sad for the kids and the seniors, because they are most likely going to miss prom. Students are asking about that, but we don’t have any answers right now. Students deserve the celebrations of proms and graduation ceremonies after four years of high school. There are just so many questions and moving parts.

Q: What life lessons do you see in all of this?

A: I feel like the teaching moment is about strengthening relationships between parents and kids. Also, it’s a chance for kids to show they can follow the rules for the greater good of society when they’re on their own, like observing social distancing and doing simple things including washing hands often.

I really hope that in all this chaos something good will come out of it, like people being kinder to each other, and families getting stronger. And I’m really hoping we can all get back in the classroom as soon as possible!

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