A Portage Life in the Spotlight: Nicole ‘Nikki’ Martinez

A Portage Life in the Spotlight: Nicole ‘Nikki’ Martinez

Nicole “Nikki” Martinez, an English Language Arts (ELA) eighth grade teacher at Fegely Middle School, has invested her life in education. As a first generation college graduate, Martinez felt empowered from her former teachers. She overcame struggles with reading comprehension and now instills passion for reading and writing with her students.

“I always tell my students that I’m forever a student,” Martinez said. “I see an opportunity for students to teach me as well. I believe asking students if what is being taught makes sense or finding what they feel needs to be changed really goes hand-in-hand. I think students appreciate when I’m authentic and transparent with them, especially when it comes to teaching and learning.”

Martinez, a native of Michigan, played the role of the new girl throughout her childhood. She spent much of her youth changing schools. Easing the burden of these transitional periods were her outstanding teachers.

“Several of my teachers made a big impact on my life and led me to my interest in teaching,” said Martinez. “When I attended first grade in Detroit, I had one of my favorite teachers. She was a frail, very old, African-American teacher who would wrap me up in her arms, let me sit on her lap, and engage me in storytime. She was so kind, compassionate and never judgmental, especially at a time when I was very homesick.”

Martinez extends gratitude to her fourth grade teacher. After enrolling halfway in the school year, Martinez recounts her struggle with mathematics and operating at a slower pace than that of her classmates. Her fourth grade teacher chose to believe in Martinez and helped her catch up. Further, she commends her high school English teacher, who introduced her to William Shakespeare.

“She was the first person to really see the potential in me and didn’t allow me to settle,” said Martinez. “She was really tough, but I loved it. She gave me my love of Shakespeare, despite my struggles with reading comprehension. She sparked my interest in teaching English.”

At the end of high school, Martinez attended a college fair at Oakland Community College. The fair offered Martinez three choices to commit to: one of two large public universities or a small, private college.

“I chose Alma College because I didn’t want to get lost in a large lecture classroom or navigate a big campus,” Martinez said. “I wanted to be disciplined and challenged in my education. I chose English not because it was the easier subject for me. I feel that lots of teachers choose something they’re really passionate about. Maybe it comes easy to them, but for me, it didn’t.”

In undergrad, Alma College provided Martinez the unique opportunity to student teach at both a traditional and alternative high school. After graduating, Martinez moved to Indiana where she took a job as an admission counselor at Valparaiso University and counseled for over 13 years. There, she also obtained her master’s degree and taught as an adjunct professor. She taught learning strategies and professional development.

“After teaching for seven years at the college level, I decided I really wanted to go back to school to pursue more teaching,” said Martinez. “I just love learning and I love being a student. So I went back and completed my Education Specialist Degree (EdS) in Instructional Leadership so I could return to the classroom.”

While studying, Martinez made a career change to being a lecturer and academic advisor at Purdue University Northwest, where she relished her role in guiding first generation college students. After two years, Martinez felt called to go back to secondary education and teach full-time. Her husband, Matt Martinez, a teacher in Portage Township Schools, recommended an eighth grade English Language Arts (ELA) position at Fegely Middle School.

“I never thought that I would be teaching middle school because it was my least favorite time,” said Martinez. “Middle school is when students are trying to figure out who they are and how they become the person they want to be. It is a time when their moral compass is challenged. When I interviewed for Fegely, I saw their passion for the students and it confirmed my calling to help students navigate this specific time—both academically and socially.”

Since October of 2022, Martinez has been invigorating her eighth graders at Fegely with the compelling joys of language arts. In light of her experiences teaching in Portage, Martinez emphasizes the importance of mentorship, support and encouragement from other teachers.

“I like the diversity of students, specifically the student body because the smaller size allows me to get to know the students better,” said Martinez. “I also love that I have a supportive team, like my principal, my department chair and my team. They’re all amazing to work with! I like the various activities that our admin coordinates to keep our students engaged with each other and with their education.”

In preparation for each week, Martinez collaborates with her colleague Connie Waldron to ensure the success of the students. She also aims to integrate her former learning strategies and other research-based pedagogies into her classroom to help aid students who struggle with reading comprehension and writing. By the end of the year, she most looks forward to Eighth Grade Recognition to witness how far her students have gone in their educational journey.

Outside her time as an educator, Martinez loves to read and spend time with her family.

“My husband and I have two elementary-age sons,” said Martinez. “My students know they can always find me cheering my sons on during their basketball games. I work out in my free time. I also read as part of a book club. I know my students always make fun of me, as if it’s such a nerdy thing, but I like to practice what I preach and encourage my students to pick up a book, even if they have just 10 minutes to spare.”