When Freedom High School Spanish teacher Annalouisa Gonzalez-Ortega stumbled into the teaching profession, she didn’t know what to expect.
Some 24 years later, the chance move has benefited thousands of students and counting.
The White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative will soon honor Gonzalez-Ortega for her dedication to serving the community through teaching as part of the program’s #Latinosteach webpage and on social media.
Gonzalez-Ortega, who has taught at Freedom for about 21 years, was chosen from among educators nationwide after being nominated by Freedom Assistant Principal Dr. Steve Amaro and subsequently answering a series of education-focused questions.
“Most importantly, she has great relationships with the kids,” Amaro said. “She has been part of the fabric of Freedom High School for well over 15 years. She’s just an incredible teacher who goes above and beyond. She has a great heart. Watching her interact with students day-to-day, she finds a way to individualize for every student.”
Gonzalez-Ortega said the honor took her by surprise.
“I was ecstatic and shocked for a bit,” she said. “I was not expecting it. I was really honored and thank Mr. Amaro for the nomination.”
Gonzalez-Ortega says she tries to use her profession not only to educate her students but also to better their lives.
Gonzalez-Ortega’s influence often transcends classroom Spanish language and culture instruction, morphing into tips on a range of collegiate options and success — insight that paved her own path to prosperity.
Her father finished only up to sixth grade and her mother third grade.
“They (my parents) couldn’t help me, but I was fortunate to have somebody to guide me and tell me this is what I need to do,” Gonzalez-Ortega said. “Otherwise, I honestly don’t know where I would be. I want to provide my students the same. It’s kind of like paying it forward, providing them the same opportunities and options that I was given.”
In her role, Gonzalez-Ortega said she establishes school as a safe place. She teaches while also counseling on a range of topics, including collegiate requirements, financial aid and community college options.
Her students and colleges are quick to realize her impact.
Gonzalez-Ortega was once a matron of honor for one of her former students, and was also invited to be present for the birth of the former student’s first child.
Amaro recently revealed she raised $10,000 for college scholarships this year, despite the COVID-19-strained state of the economy.
“She was able to make sure that we sent our kids off to college,” Amaro said.
As effective as Gonzalez-Ortega’s tenure has been, it wouldn’t have materialized without a chance opportunity.
In her 20s in 1997, she had already graduated with bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and government from St. Mary’s College and was enrolled in the school’s psychology master’s program, when the St. Mary’s curriculum and instruction adviser approached her about an immediate Spanish teaching position at Carondelet High School.
The rest is history.
Carondelet officials hired the 23-year-old Gonzalez-Ortega on the spot, and a few months into the endeavor, she transferred to St. Mary’s teaching credential program.
“I still remember that first day (in the classroom),” she said. “My heart was beating really fast and I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to do this?’ Some of the students were just five years younger than I was, and some were bigger than me. Everyone warned me about classroom management. But I just walked in there, I was myself, I was honest with them. I always tell them it’s not about me being the teacher and you being the student. We are a community, a family away from family, and as long as you are respectful toward me, I will always be respectful toward you.”
Some 24 years later, she’s still going strong, and loving every minute of it. The recent honor is just a bonus.
“I don’t do it to get the teacher of the year award,” she said. “I get my reward every time one of my kids (students) comes to me and says they got accepted (into college). Knowing they took what I gave them and are moving forward, and it is helping them: that’s my reward.”
Gonzalez-Ortega’s profile had not been released on the #Latinosteach webpage as of press time. The Press will publish the link as soon as the profile is released.
For more information on the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, visit https://sites.ed.gov/hispanic-initiative/