HOPE – She was always the teacher when she “played school” with friends as a child.
“I just knew I was going to be a teacher,” Beryl Henry Elementary School social studies teacher LaToya Martin explains.
Martin, the Hope Rotary Club Primary Teacher of the Year 2016, has been in the classroom now for 15 years, the last five at Beryl Henry Elementary.
“It may have started when I was in preschool,” she recalls. “The ladies would always set me on their lap and read to me; and, I love to read.”
Reading, Martin said, is the foundation for her entire approach as a teacher.
“I read to my students,” she said. “I remember my teacher reading ‘Ralph and the Motorcycle;’ and, each day I couldn’t wait to get back to school to see what Ralph would do.”
Martin said she was inspired by stories such as “The Boxcar Kids” series because they dealt with circumstances which many children faced, but in a way that explained those aspects of life.
“You have to make it come to life,” she said. “When we were in school, you could simply read the text and learn; now, you have to really make it come alive.”
Martin is a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education, and she is certified to teach in grades PreK-8. She taught first grade for seven years in the Pulaski County School District in Little Rock, and Pre-kindergarten for three years privately, along with working as an alternative classroom teacher for three years prior to arriving at BHE, where she has taught for five years.
A native of Hope, Martin graduated from Hope High School in 1995, and began teaching to help a friend establish a private daycare. After she returned to Hope and transferred from special education to BHE, she became as a social studies teacher. In 2011, social studies and literacy were blended.
Martin admits that in her early career she was often frustrated by the rapid changes in educational philosophy statewide.
“But, we’re headed in the right direction,” she noted. “There have been a lot of things I’ve seen that I had never fathomed.”
Martin said she overcomes frustration from the broader contexts of education with innovation at the classroom level, instilling her love of reading into her students.
“Even though they are in the fifth grade, I read to them,” she said.
Sometimes, former students stop at her room after school simply to read, Martin said.
Martin said her classes are currently studying aspects of the Civil War by reading books that approach that part of American history from different perspectives. She said among those studies has been the story based in the book “Henry’s Freedom Box” by Ellen Levine, about a slave who had himself mailed to a free state in order to escape slavery.
“I drew a square on the floor, and had a student stand in it,” Martin explained. “He couldn’t move around because it was so small; and, he had to be quiet. They learned what it was like in that box.”
She has addressed other aspects of American history in similar fashion, dividing the class into patriots and British soldiers to illustrate the Boston Massacre. Martin said the “soldiers” used their fingers to represent guns and the “patriots” used wadded pieces of notebook paper to represent the snowballs the Boston residents tossed at the soldiers that sparked the incident.
“They wanted to switch sides because they wanted a chance to throw snowballs at the soldiers,” she said.
Martin believes that kind of engagement beyond the text is necessary.
“Some of them have a different drive; but, those kids have to do their part, too,” she said.
Martin is a member of the Pentecostal Temple Church, where she is active in church functions, and she volunteers in community activities.
“I do things other than just what I do here, if I have the time. My students see me in other places,” she said.
Martin also likes to insert fun into the classroom.
“I dress up on the dress up days and do some of the silly stuff,” she said. “I take it seriously, but we have a little fun, too.”