Future Teacher Discovers Life Lessons Through Hardship

March 19, 2014

ChanelEvery morning while drinking a cup of coffee, Chanel Martins takes a few minutes to reflect on what she’s thankful for that day.

“Even if it’s the smallest thing, like ‘This coffee’s really good this morning,’ it really should become a lifestyle habit to try and focus on even one small positive thing,” she said.

Martins has a lot of reasons to be thankful. Five years ago, she was recovering from a horrific car accident that left her unable to walk; today, she’s nearly fully recovered from her injuries. She’s nearing the completion of her teaching credential at CSU Stanislaus and has been chosen for a newly created student liaison position in the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC).

A professor in the CSU Stanislaus Department of Teacher Education recommended Martins for the CTC position, and the committee selected Martins from a statewide pool of candidates as the first-ever Educator Preparation Student Liaison. Her job is to represent teacher credential candidates in meetings in Sacramento for a one-year term, during which the agency evaluates and sets the standards for teachers in California. Her first meeting was in December.

“It’s such an honor for me to not only represent credential candidates, but CSU Stanislaus and the town of Turlock,” Martins said. “I’m excited to take the knowledge I gather at these meetings and share that information with my peers, professors and coworkers.”

Martins is studying to become a high school English teacher, gaining experience as a student teacher at Turlock High School and an intern at Davis High School in Modesto. She plans to earn her credential this semester and credits CSU Stanislaus’ pre-credential single subject matter preparation program — which she completed in her undergraduate studies — for her current success.

“I felt that I had so much experience already that I was bringing to the table, which has helped me in the credential program,” Martins reflected. “The specially designed program for English majors that I was able to take here at CSU Stanislaus helped me get to where I am now.”

A Twist of Fate

CSU Stanislaus wasn’t part of Martins’ original plans. In 2008, she was attending UC Santa Cruz and came home to Turlock for the holiday break. One night, Martins and her friends drove to Turlock Lake — a route they’d taken many times. This time, they didn’t make it.

Martins’ friend, who was driving, swerved off the road to avoid an oncoming truck. Their car rolled downhill several times, and Martins was ejected.

“I tried to stand myself up, but all that worked was my arms and I couldn’t feel from my chest down,” Martins recalled. “I had no feeling whatsoever. I couldn’t move.”

Among multiple injuries, Martins had a shattered vertebra that punctured her spinal cord and left her paralyzed from the chest down. Even after an emergency surgery, doctors said she only had a 1 percent chance of walking again. Her parents shielded her from the bad news.

“I went day to day and never really considered that I wouldn’t get better,” Martins said. “My parents saw that I was determined, and they didn’t want to break that spirit.”

That optimism was Martins’ driving force. Day after day of physical therapy provided signs of hope — a twitch of a toe led to movement in her ankle, then her knee. After six months, Martins walked again, and she soon transferred to CSU Stanislaus to stay close to home and save money.

“It really was a miracle that I even survived, let alone started walking again and progressed to where I can live my life today with no special aid,” Martins said.

Lessons Learned

Martins still walks with a limp on days when she feels fatigued. And when she finds herself overwhelmed with school and work, her internal strength overpowers her physical constraints and anxiety.

“If I’m having a bad day, I remind myself, ‘You’re alive, and you’ve accomplished so much, and you can walk,’” she said. “That simple statement brings me back to reality and reminds me of what’s actually important.”

That outlook is evident in her teaching style, as well. In the CSU Stanislaus teaching credential program, Martins has learned about the importance of developing trusting relationships with her students. She does so by infusing her positive attitude into the classes she teaches.

“Every morning, I try to find a way to interact with one of the students in my classes,” Martins said. “Whether it’s ‘Hey, you got a haircut today; I like it,’ or ‘How’d you do in your football game last night?’ — it shows them that I care. The students pick up on that and have a tendency to be more positive in the class, as well.”

Martins is excited for her career as a teacher, as well as her term on the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. No matter the accomplishments or challenges that lie ahead, she’s confident her new outlook will keep her on track.

“To me, everything in life happens for a reason,” Martins said. “And if it’s bad, there’s going to be something that comes out of it that is positive. Had I not been in the accident, I wouldn’t have transferred to CSU Stanislaus. I wouldn’t have known about the position with the CTC, and I wouldn’t have had the qualifications for it. The way everything lines up points in one direction.”

For information about the Department of Teacher Education and the teacher credential programs at CSU Stanislaus, visit csustan.edu/TeacherEd or call (209) 667-3357.

Jessica Chang Irish