Las Vegas, N.M. – A Highlands University alumna named for a 2018 Teacher Who Inspires Award said success at teaching middle school math is about relationships not just numbers.
Melissa Romero, a 7th and 8th grade mathematics teacher at El Camino Real Academy in Santa Fe Public Schools for the past four years, received the Partners in Education Foundation honor, and a $1,500 check, in May.
“The philosophy that guides me as an educator is to first build strong relationships with my students,” Romero said. “When a student knows you love and care for them, they are much more willing to listen and learn.”
Romero, who received a rare exemplary rating from the New Mexico Public Education Department in 2017 based upon administrator observation and sharply increasing test scores in her students, teaches math to 100 teenagers a day at El Camino Real, a dual language school.
She said her passion to teach math grew from her personal experience.
“I struggled in math throughout my education and it wasn’t until I went to Highlands that I understood I needed to be proficient at math to be a good teacher. I gathered additional math materials and studied every chance I had. This experience made me realize that a lot of students have the same weakness and I can empathize with them. I share my passion for math with my students, and this creates a hunger with them to at least try it. I tell every one of them that they can learn math at the highest level.”
Romero said mathematics provides a necessary range of skills that are essential for everyday life and the workplace.
“Advanced math courses provide an open door for students to prepare for college-level courses, leading to opportunities for high-paying and satisfying careers. I greatly enjoy witnessing the learning process firsthand and seeing the confidence, satisfaction and accomplishment on my students’ faces when they master math.” Romero said.
Romero taught 6th grade mathematics for 10 years at Agua Fria Elementary before it became El Camino Real Academy in 2014. El Camino Real Principal Jack Lain said Romero is superb at building relationships with her students.
“Melissa is very honest with the students and they know she has their back.” Lain said. “They love her for that. Melissa is a positive role model for me as a principal because she’s exceptionally patient. Occasionally when I’m talking with a challenging student, I close my eyes briefly and imagine her interacting with the student and it puts me in a better place to work with their behavior.”
Lain said Romero is an innovative teacher and leader.
“Melissa works with each student at their level, making learning individually relevant. She’s a member of the Math Teacher Leadership Network and brings best practices back to our school,” Lain said.
Romero developed a new class called Inspire Math Leadership in 2017, where she trains 7th and 8th grade students to tutor their younger classmates.
“I’m seeing students bonding well with the younger children, building community, and improving math competency. It’s a powerful dynamic and I have a waiting list of youth who want to tutor next year,” Romero said.
The teacher and colleague who nominated Romero for the Teachers Who Inspire Award wrote: “Melissa’s teaching motto is ‘tough love’ – she expects their best and when a student momentarily forgets, she reminds them of this important expectation with kindness and an affirmation that she is their biggest fan and supporter.”
Romero, who is the first in her family to complete college, traces her desire to become a teacher to childhood.
“My fourth-grade teacher, Marcos Martínez, planted the seed to teach in me. I was thrilled when he chose me to teach a spelling lesson and the students responded well. Today I’m working with a lot of immigrant families and letting them know they can be the first to go to college.”
Romero said she doesn’t do it alone at El Camino Real Academy.
“I have a great team of retired volunteers in the classroom who support me and the students, making one-on-one and small group instruction possible,” Romero said.
Romero has also earned recognition at the national level. In 2016, she was the keynote speaker at the MidSchool Math National Conference, where she has also taught a number of workshops.
Romero taught preschool for 12 years while raising two children before earning her bachelor’s degree in education from Highlands in 2004 with a bilingual endorsement.
“Highlands prepared me well for the classroom. The two professors who inspired me the most were Carolyn Stupin in math elementary education and Sara Harris in Spanish. Carolyn taught us engaging styles of teaching math and was extremely creative with instruction. Sara was a very dynamic and dedicated teacher who helped me develop my Spanish reading and writing skills,” Romero said.
Reflecting on her Teacher Who Inspires Award, Romero said: “I feel like God has blessed me with a passion to teach and I’m thankful I have the skills and strategies to work effectively with teenagers. With this award, I’m proud to represent God, my family, El Camino Real Academy, and Highlands well.”