Ortiz is 'contenta' to be Destin Middle School Teacher of the Year
When the announcement was recently made for Teacher of the Year at Destin Middle School, Emibel Ortiz was “muy emocionada.”
Ortiz, in her fourth year as Spanish teacher at Destin Middle, is this year’s recipient of the award, voted on by her peers.
“Ms. Ortiz is a quiet, steady presence for her students,” said Destin Middle School Principal Belinda Small. “They absolutely know that she cares about them beyond Spanish class. She is highly respected by our students, faculty and staff for the many qualities she embodies as a gifted educator.
“We are so proud for her to receive this high honor voted on by her peers. What an accomplishment,” Small added.
Ortiz, originally from Puerto Rico, settled in Okaloosa County after her husband retired from the military.
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They had thought about returning to Puerto Rico, but after Hurricane Maria swept through in 2017, they settled in Niceville, a place they were familiar with after being stationed at Eglin previously.
“Everything was planned to be,” Ortiz said.
Destin Middle School was in need of a Spanish teacher and she was in need of a job.
“He called me and I talked to him, and I get an interview,” Ortiz said referring to former Destin Middle School Principal Grant Meyer.
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Ortiz's educational background was in elementary school, K through 3rd grade, having received her degree at Interamerican University of Puerto Rico at Barranquitas.
“I finished my master's degree in preschool (education),” she said.
However, she needed to be certified for middle school.
“I need to do a test … a huge, hard test,” Ortiz said. “Mr. Meyer said, 'How confident do you feel you will pass the test?' I said, 'I feel very confident.' I passed it on first try. I was so happy.”
She has been at Destin Middle School since 2018.
“I love it here,” she said.
And as for the Teacher of the Year accolade, “Oh my gosh … I’ve been crying,” she said.
“My thing is teaching Spanish to the kids. Right now, we have a lot of changes,” Ortiz said. “We have more students that we need to help them with the language. The more language you know, the more you’re going to be able to communicate with people.
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“It’s a huge thing for me,” Ortiz said.
At Destin Middle she is teaching Spanish on three different levels.
The fifth graders are like her “elementary students,” she said.
“Then I teach beginners Spanish,” which is for the middle schoolers.
And she also teaches Spanish 1, which is a class that counts for a high school credit.
And the students are learning the language, she said.
“Yeah, yeah … that’s the best part of my class,” she said of when she hears the students speaking back to her in Spanish.
“They are learning something new every single day,” she said. “We review what we learn and then we keep adding more details, more details. And I love when they start talking at the table … no it’s this way,” noting the students start correcting one another in Spanish.
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Ortiz has between 21 and 28 students in the classroom.
“I do a quiz for attendance,” she said.
Ortiz explained she will call the students' name and ask them something in Spanish every day and they have to answer in Spanish as another way to engage with the students.
Ortiz found her love for teaching while at university in Puerto Rico.
As part of a project, she worked with a child to help him do better in class. While working with the child she found out that the parents didn’t know how to read or write. So, she started tutoring the parents as well and the child passed his classes the next year.
“With that project it changed their life and my life. That’s when I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
At Destin Middle, Ortiz said there are students that do not know any English.
“We need to work with that too, because they are a part of our community now. We need to support them,” she said.
In her classroom she has a student who knows Spanish, but is learning English while Ortiz gives instruction to the Spanish class.
“So, I’m helping her with English in Spanish class,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz said there is more of a need to learn Spanish now than before.
“We need to be ready for more … it’s going to stay with us and keep changing,” she said.
Ortiz is the only Spanish teacher at Destin Middle.
“I love it … I love my classroom; I love my students and all the teachers," Ortiz said. "Dr. Small has been so kind.
“I still like in a dream,” she added as a big smile spread across her face.