Some of Juan Martinez’s earliest memories are of working with his family in the agricultural fields in California picking grapes and cleaning cotton and alfalfa fields of weeds. The son of Mexican immigrants, Martinez learned early to love school because vacations meant toiling in 100-degree heat.
“These difficult experiences as a child hit you over the head.,” he said. “It taught you to work hard and to recognize that many of the issues we think of as problems are really ones of luxury and privilege. I don’t take anything for granted at all.”
Since Martinez’s second language is English, one of his first jobs after college was helping new arrivals to this country acclimate to their new environment. He taught them subjects in their native tongue first before they could master English. Bitten by the travel bug, Martinez worked at Seoul Foreign School, an international school for the expatriate community of Seoul, Korea, for six years. It was there that he learned how essential technology could be in connecting with his family back home. “One reason I went into technology is that it allowed me to communicate with the people I cared about,” he said. “While in Korea, the phone bills were astronomical so I used chat software such as ICQ and Net2Phone, an early software that allowed you to use the Internet to call phones around the world. Technology often has a negative connotation, but truly, it can connect us deeply.”
Martinez weaves technology through his classes to better inform and connect the students to the subject matter. “I want the students to see the big picture by sharing the stories of the people and learning from the people directly,” he said. Currently, his students are reading La Guerra Sucia, about the dictatorship in Argentina from 1976 to 1983, when more than 30,000 people disappeared. Martinez brings Argentinian voices into the class through Youtube, uses Google maps to enter the vibrant streets of Buenos Aires, and video conferences with a friend who lives in Córdoba, Argentina, so the students can ask him questions about his experiences living and growing up in Argentina and about his time studying and working in the U.S.A.
Martinez recognizes that learning another language does not always come easily so he approaches the material by various means so that it resonates with different learning styles. “It’s all about being flexible,” he said. “I’ll try anything and everything. If something doesn't work, I will try something else. I want students to work through the difficulty and to appreciate that failure comes at you all the time. And that’s ok To me, setbacks are challenges to overcome, and the key is cultivating grit and a growth mindset.”