Mercedes Portillo’s day at the Riverside Unified School District begins at 7:45 am. She dedicates her mornings to tutoring students who need extra help. When school starts, she teaches math before switching to English Language Development (ELD) and science—these classes are taught in English. In the afternoon, she teaches Spanish Language Arts. Then after school, she tutors more students 2 or 3 days of the week.
“My job is my passion – preparing the foundation for my students’ educational journey. I am teaching them how to read, write, and manipulate numbers, while at the same time becoming bilingual. It is the fuel that motivates me every day. I believe that my students will be prepared for college, careers, and communities that are highly diverse and globally connected.”
At 18 years of age, Portillo married and had a son soon afterward. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would go to college,” says Portillo. When her son was almost a year old, she began working as an instructional assistant, and the teachers she assisted would continuously suggest that she had the potential to be an outstanding teacher. “After years of doubting myself, something clicked, and I decided to go back to school at the age of 32 to become a teacher. It was the best decision I made,” says Portillo. “I began to learn so many different ideas, to have my own opinions, to learn from different cultures, sciences and their theories, and how different we all could be yet appreciate those differences,” she continued.
It wasn’t easy at times juggling taking care of a family, a full-time job, and school. It took almost 10 years to complete her AA, AS, Bachelor’s degree, and teaching credential. Her children and friends motivated her to keep going. She recently finished her Master’s Degree in Education.
Portillo’s role model was her father. Educated up to the sixth grade, he made sure his family had a better life by immigrating to California, becoming a homeowner with a decent paying job, and raising a family of six. He fought arduously against discrimination. In his limited English, he spoke to the church pastor and the city mayor advocating for the rights of the community to be provided services in their own language. “My parents would always say ‘Recuerda el que habla dos Idiomas vale por dos’ or a person that speaks two languages has the worth of two people, instilling me with pride for my roots, heritage, and my mother tongue.”
“My education has given me the knowledge to help others, set an example for my own children to complete their education, has given me success, has given me independence, the opportunity to travel, commodities, and the opportunity to continue to learn more and live happily. My educational journey has taught me that success is accomplished through hard work, persistence, and discipline.”
Portillo was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2018-2019 at her school site.
I emphasize the importance of cultivating patience. In order to fulfill my goal of impacting students’ lives and helping them learn, it is important that I slow down and move at their pace. Another skill that I believe is important is to be socially adept. Being an educator requires that I deal with other teachers and many parents, constantly, in a peaceful, effective, and productive manner. Without these skills, it would be very difficult to succeed as a teacher."