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Georgia Southern alumna receives top honors in state for English Language teachers

Georgia Southern University Double Eagle Claudia Martinez (’13, ’16) was recently named the 2020 Teacher of the Year by the Georgia Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). As a former English as a Second Language (ESOL) student, Martinez said the award is invaluable.

“This award means so much to me — as a first-generation college student, a woman of color, a previous migrant and an ESOL student,” said Martinez. “It made me reflect on all of the struggles and hardships that I faced and overcame. It encouraged me to keep working hard to make a difference in my community.”

Born in Tamaulipas, Mexico, Martinez was raised in Claxton, Georgia. She received legal residency at age eight but struggled at first to acclimate to an environment that had only a “handful of Spanish-speaking students.” She continued to work hard, and thanks to the motivation of teachers and family, she became the first in her family to graduate from college.

Martinez earned both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in elementary education at Georgia Southern while working at her hometown elementary school, giving back to the community that helped her. Since 2008, Martinez has worked with migrant students at Claxton Elementary, earning a full-time teaching position in 2014. Today she serves as the school’s ESOL teacher.

“I choose to work with ESOL students because I have experienced the English Language Learner (ELL) struggle,” Martinez said. “I know how it feels to come to a new country and having to learn a new language, culture and having to reconceptualize my identity. As an ESOL teacher, one of my goals is to help advocate for my students and help facilitate their academic success and to encourage post-secondary education.”

Martinez was nominated for the award by former teachers, colleagues and Georgia Southern faculty members, all of whom, she said, were instrumental in helping her achieve her goals.

“They helped ignite a passion for culture and linguistic teaching,” said Martinez. “These people believed in me when I did not believe in myself.”

Martinez’s passion for helping ELL students and her desire to grow in her practice led her to pursue an Ed.D. in curriculum studies at Georgia Southern. Recently, she defended and passed her final dissertation and will graduate in December.

While Martinez is not certain what exactly is in store for her next, she does know she plans to continue to serve ELL students.

“I declare that my journey is just beginning and that I will be victorious in everything that comes my way,” she said. “I hope that I can acquire a position in which I can continue to help Latinx students to be academically successful and help facilitate post-secondary education.”

All K-12 teachers working with ESOL students in the state of Georgia for at least two years are eligible for the GATESOL Teacher of the Year Award. Awarded annually, GATESOL developed the award to recognize teachers dedicated to working with ELL students and their commitment to improving the practice of teaching students with diverse needs.

As the 2020 recipient, Martinez receives a complimentary one-year membership to GATESOL and will be recognized at the annual Georgia TESOL Conference in November.

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/R2 institution founded in 1906, offers 141 degree programs serving more than 26,000 students through nine colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, Hinesville and online instruction. A leader in higher education in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit


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