Brenda Ortiz Torres has always wanted to change the world, and that’s what drives her passion for education now. However, her fervor for teaching was not always so clear.
Ortiz Torres’ family moved to Colorado when she was five, and when she was a sophomore in high school, Ortiz Torres found out she was undocumented. She discovered she was not going to lead a normal life behind the scenes.
“This also made me realize that I had to succeed,” she said. “I owed it to my family, to my people and to myself to be better than I was before and to work as hard as possible. This got me into the mindset that in order to be successful and to create some kind of change, I had to be a doctor or engineer.”
When she enrolled at CU Boulder, her personal journey and the path toward making change had only just begun. Still stuck on the idea she needed to become a doctor, she joined the Neuroscience in the Classroom Outreach program, in which CU Boulder students across disciplines visit classrooms and teach kids about the brain. She found herself jealous of and inspired by the teachers who got to spend every day with wonderful kids. Ortiz Torres changed her major four times, and as a junior she enrolled in the elementary education teacher licensure program in the School of Education and finally found a true love and passion for her work.
“Being in the School of Education has opened up so many more opportunities for my voice to be heard,” she said. “The school has helped me understand why it is so important to be Mexican and to be a leader and role model for students who do not often get positive representation. I've also met amazing teachers and professors who have inspired to me to go further and to keep fighting for students and with students, because the fight can get exhausting.”
Making change and working with students are the reasons Ortiz Torres is so hopeful for her future after graduation and for the future of her students.
“I know that the students I teach will be the change in the world,” she said. “I've seen the disservice that the world does for people of color, and I want my students to be inspired to start having more ideas and to think about what they want to see and how to get it.
“Teaching is more than just teaching how to read, write, do math, science and social studies, it's about teaching students how to think deeper and how to stand up for themselves and stand with each other. Being in education inspires me to go out and change the world.”
What’s your advice for incoming students?
As a teacher you are always learning. Do not be afraid to make mistakes, be who you expect your students to be! If you expect them to be kind, you must be kind. If you expect them to apologize for their mistakes you must do so as well. Teaching is more than just working with kids, so you must understand their background but do not make assumptions about who they are because of what they look like. It sounds cliché, but I see it all over the place. Teaching is hard, and you will cry for happy reasons and for sad reasons, but those tears are of love. Love your students and change the world.