In early October, Franklin High School (FHS) Special Education teacher Mercedes Muñoz was wondering why she'd been told to make sure she attended an all-school assembly in their gymnasium.
It didn't take long for her to find out why. As she sat in the audience, Portland Public Schools (PPS) Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, surrounded by School Board members and officials, announced before the student body that Muñoz had been selected as "Oregon's Teacher of the Year".
"We are a better school community because of the dedication and hard work of Mercedes Muñoz," declared FHS Principal Chris Frazier,
Not long after the hoopla surrounding the assembly subsided, Muñoz spoke to THE BEE about her award, in one of the classrooms in which she teaches. "This will be my seventh year at Franklin High School; I started here in 2013 – I started here, and stayed here.
"I teach Special Education – which means I teach a little bit of everything; and provide 'push in support' in classrooms for English language arts," Muñoz explained. "To me, teaching is about giving back, and maximizing relationships with students, so they are empowered to make some choices about what they want to do for their future."
About being awarded, Muñoz commented, "First of all, receiving the 'Oregon Teacher of the Year' is a big deal, clearly; but [since receiving it], up until just a couple of days ago, I've been – a little bit – in shock, teaching and going about my regular business of working the day-to-day stuff and not focused on the award, or what's down the road.
"Since it was announced, a couple of past Oregon Teacher of the Year recipients have reached out to me and told me that I'd be in for a whirlwind, as I became the 'face of education in Oregon', which started my thinking about what I love and value about this craft."
As she's come to learn, Muñoz confided, she will serve as a spokesperson and representative for all Oregon teachers. Additionally, she'll attend the "Washington Recognition Week for Teachers of the Year" in Washington, D.C. this spring – In addition to receiving year-long professional development and networking with other state Teachers of the Year.
Now, she looks forward to "sharing the joy, and passion – the rough stuff" with other educators.
"Teaching is not an easy job; sometimes people might think (she waved her hand like in a magical gesture) that abracadabra, things just fall together. But, teaching is a lot of hard work, it takes a lot of patience, and perseverance and being willing to try new things, looking for methods and ways to better teach," elucidated Muñoz. "That's what I want to communicate about this job."
When asked by THE BEE about what she feels is the best part of teaching at Franklin High (an outburst of laughter occurred at that moment from the hallway), her response was to nod her head and smile broadly, "You hear the laughter and enthusiasm from the students?
"And, I love my colleagues here, which is why I've stayed put; it's now a nurturing environment," Muñoz went on. "Here, I've been able to develop strong relationships, and collaborate with other people who are connected with, and invested in, children – and are passionate about making a positive difference here, every day."
An example of just one of many staffmembers whom Muñoz commended for collaboration was 33-year FHS veteran Pamela Garrett, who told us. "She's the bomb; when I came, she 'wrapped her heart around me', answering my many pesky questions that I had, and, still have."
Directly addressing parents of Franklin High students, Muñoz expressed, "I want you to know that we appreciate your collaboration. I know that parents invest in their children, and have a lot of dreams for them, and want to see their children's talents come to fruition.
"Please, continue being partners, continue 'showing up', continue asking for what you need; and, if you can't 'open one door' successfully, try another – because your kids are that important, and they matter."
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