'Teaching the whole child is the framework for everything I do.'

If not for Mindy Martin’s original career, she might not have found happiness in her second.

The Evansville, Indiana, native graduated in 2001 from Catawba College in North Carolina with a degree in finance and spent five years as a personal banker with Bank of America. “After working with a lot of the college students who were coming in to get credit cards and savings accounts and their first checking accounts and making all these errors and mistakes, I just felt like there was more,” Martin says, adding that time she spent volunteering with Junior Achievement—a nonprofit program for elementary-school students dedicated to financial literacy and work preparedness—clinched her realization that “there was a calling for me in education.”

More than a decade later, that calling has served Martin well. To cap off her seventh year as a fourth-grade teacher at Taylor Road Elementary School in Reynoldsburg, Martin was named the elementary school winner in the Columbus Parent/ThisWeek Community News 2020 Teachers of the Year awards.

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For this year’s Teachers of the Year awards (the seventh year for the project), readers nominated educators from school districts all over Central Ohio. Nominations were taken online Dec. 5 to Jan. 16. The editorial staffs from Columbus Parent and ThisWeek reviewed all of the submissions, did some independent research and chose 15 finalists, who were voted on by the public Feb. 22 to March 25. Three winners were chosen: one each at the elementary, middle and high school levels. 

Some who know Martin, 40, think describing her simply as a teacher doesn’t do justice to all her contributions to both her school and the district. She has served on curriculum committees for math, reading, science and social studies, leads her school’s spirit wear sale to benefit the Parent Teacher Organization and is on the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports committee to improve overall student behavior and foster their success.

“It’s not unheard of for her to be here at 9 o’clock at night,” Taylor Road Principal Jamie Johnson says. “She is for sure one of the hardest-working teachers we have, but along with that, she is one of the most effective. Her evaluation every year is a ‘5’ [the highest possible score].

“She is tutoring students during their lunch hour and during recess if they want to stay in. She’s offering tutoring before school and after school for kids to help them learn things they might be having difficulty with. But aside from the academic stuff, she really just makes them better people.”

Martin is Taylor Road’s second Teachers of the Year winner; Rita Crego won the award in 2018.

After earning her teaching degree from University of North Carolina-Charlotte and getting her license in 2008, Martin spent a year at Eckerd Youth Alternatives, a nonprofit center for at-risk children in Elizabethtown, North Carolina, and four years teaching fourth and fifth grades at Hawk Eye Elementary School in Raeford, North Carolina, before moving to Central Ohio in 2013 to be closer to family.

Martin—who lives in Reynoldsburg with her husband, Scott, and daughters Lillian, 5, and Allison, 4—runs her class as a mini society. At the beginning of each year, students get descriptions of careers and go through an application and interview process, complete with references and an essay stating why they want to pursue a given occupation. They also use planners and must pay rent for their desks and fines if they break rules.

“My belief is that I don’t just teach math, reading, science and social studies. I teach the whole child,” Martin says. “Teaching the whole child is the framework for everything I do. My passion to drive them comes from what’s in the best interest of children. We’re always there for the best interest of the kids. I think that’s why my students enjoy the classroom, because they feel they’re being heard. Our community doesn’t run without them. I always tell them it’s my job to teach and their job to do everything else.”

Former student Lillian Van Horn, who will be an eighth-grader this fall, nominated Martin for the award. Van Horn’s younger sister, Emma, also was in Martin’s class during the 2018-19 school year.

“She can relate to anybody. She always tells us to call her if we need anything, if we need to talk about anything. We can always rely on her,” Van Horn says. “She has great teaching skills and if you didn’t understand a topic, she would take time out of her lunch or break to have you come in and she’d go one-on-one. She always included you and made you feel like if you didn’t understand something, it was OK.”

Dave Purpura is a reporter for ThisWeek Community News.

This story is from the Summer 2020 issue of Columbus Parent.