Above and Beyond the Classroom

There are teachers who want to be recognized and ones who want their schools to be. William B. Travis’ fourth-grade bilingual science and social studies teacher, Michael Ruiz, is the second kind of educator. His dedication earned him a Dallas ISD’s 2015 Teacher of the Year award.

“I think teaching is an art form … you can’t ask, ‘who is better: Pollack or Picasso?’ How do you decide that? You don’t,” Ruiz said. “I’m not [applying] because I think I am the best, I am doing it because I have an amazing support system that deserves to have a spotlight.”

Ruiz was one of four winners chosen by the Teacher Excellence Initiative, which evaluates teacher excellence via performance, student achievements, and student experience surveys. Teachers submit their applications and 12 finalists are selected, one per category: elementary, secondary, magnet, and special schools. Ruiz won for magnet.

When Ruiz interviewed as a finalist for the award, the panel asked him why he thought he was the best teacher. His response: “I am not.”

For him, those who deserve to be recognized are those who translate the curriculum so bilingual students can understand it, as well as the executive director, principal, and so many others who support the students.

“When I won, which I was completely blown away by, true to form I did what I said in the interview,” Ruiz said. “I’ve been a teacher for five years, nothing has changed, but the people around me that provide the tools and support I need to teach … and that’s the reality of the situation.”

Ruiz didn’t start his professional career in education. After graduating from the University of Puerto Rico with a degree in finance, he pursued a marketing internship with Microsoft, which led him to a job in information technology.

He had always dreamed of being a teacher, but in Puerto Rico that wasn’t a lucrative enough job to support a family, he said. A teaching expo came to town and Ruiz told his wife that if it returned the next year, he would consider going. When it did, he went and was recruited by DISD. Ruiz and his wife decided it was the perfect time to change his career.

On the first day of the school year, Ruiz starts with a lesson on fairness. He stresses it isn’t the same as equality. If one student is a visual learner and another a kinetic learner, he believes it necessary to cater to each need. Ruiz wants his students to be as passionate about learning and pursuing their dreams as he was.

“Make sure that every student you are encountering is working towards a goal and ask them how the decisions they make are going to get them closer to it,” Ruiz said. “Because if you get in your car and start driving, but don’t know where you are going … well, where are you going?”

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