My Why - Maria Elena Martinez, Teacher's Assistant

February 14, 2024

Topic: My Why

Maria Elena Martinez frequently gets mistaken for a student. “It’s probably because I’m small in stature and have youthful energy,” Martinez quips. But this teacher’s assistant at Twain Elementary School has over 30  years of teaching experience both in the states and in her native Mexico. 

Born in Mexico City, Martinez earned a preschool teaching certificate and then studied at the High Scope Educational Research Foundation, an innovative school based in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which allows children to shape their own learning experiences, promotes independence, decision-making, cooperation, creativity and problem-solving. Coming to the United States at age 25, she started working almost immediately as a paraprofessional at Twain, helping with students in first through fifth grade with IEPs. She supports small groups of three to five students at a time and assists them with reading and math, rotating students every 15 minutes. “I like to concentrate on the children that need the most help. I have a son who is autistic, so I understand those who need a little more guidance,” said Martinez. Some students lack confidence when they struggle with reading, but Martinez encourages them by telling them that they all have their different strengths. “I enjoy seeing the progress students make,” she adds. In fact, she recently ran into a former student traveling to Chicago on Metra who is studying to be a psychologist. “I like to see the ‘magic’ that happens when students succeed,” she said. 

Outside of teaching, she spends a lot of time with her family in natural settings: the botanic garden, forest preserves and museums as it can reduce the effects of stress and anxiety in autistic people. She also grows coffee trees with her husband (a native of Guatemala) for personal use.