Meet Maria Ortiz (she/her), an 8th-grade math teacher at Hollenbeck Middle School for 15 years. We spoke recently about her passion for empowering students through math and why she remains committed to her school community after many years.

Maria’s journey into teaching was sparked by her childhood love for math and fueled by a determination to overcome obstacles. After immigrating to the United States from Mexico at 13 years old, she encountered adversity when counselors doubted her ability due to limited English proficiency. Feeling deeply upset, she decided to work hard to prove them wrong and eventually pursued a mathematics degree in college.

“Once I graduated as a mathematician, I decided that I wanted to show students that everyone can be good at math, too, with perseverance and hard work,” said Maria. 

Over the last 15 years, she has dedicated herself to inspiring students at Hollenbeck to believe in themselves and challenging the idea that students are either good or bad at math. 

As an educator, Maria considers it her responsibility to get students excited about math. She does this by creating lessons that connect math to real-world problems, prompting students to visualize concepts, and incorporating hands-on activities. “A good classroom is not one where students are quietly seated but rather one where students are standing, working in groups, and building arguments to justify their answers,” she said. 

Maria also credits her growth as an educator to the instructional support offered by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, which is also celebrating its 15th anniversary. She has benefitted from various supports offered to teachers, including observations of her teaching and one-on-one feedback sessions, visits to other teachers’ classrooms to learn new practices, and exposure to approaches used in other schools. Maria believes that “the most significant impact of these opportunities is the reminder of my role as a facilitator,” emphasizing student-led learning and providing additional resources to students to help them understand the lessons.

Looking back on her 15 years at Hollenbeck, Maria stays committed because she loves the community and the personal connections she has with students and their families. Memorable moments include seeing former students succeed in their careers and sharing her passion for making math enjoyable and accessible.