By WENYI ZHU, ’13
I remember walking into Mrs. Martinak’s room for the first time on September 5, 2012.
Summer still had me in its grasp, and the hot day — combined with the fact that I was a newly minted senior — didn’t do much to get me in the learning mood. I thought AP Literature would be just another slot in my schedule I had to fill, a boring class in which we analyzed authors long gone and pretended to understand poetry. Thankfully, my initial thoughts couldn’t have been any further from the truth.
Barely 5’2’’, Mrs. Martinak was filled with a determined energy, a lively chutzpah that woke all her classes up. She would pace the room, hands gesturing wildly as she explained the meaning behind Joseph Heller’s seemingly nonsensical names in Catch-22. Whenever a student brought up a question about existentialism or made a comment relating to symbolism, she would smile, say, “Aha,” and delve into a new lesson about that remark. Her love for the subject was evident, and her enthusiasm diffused into all of her students as well.
Along with her expertise in the field, Mrs. Martinak had classroom management skills that made her a great teacher. She always commanded respect from her students by considering all of us as mature adults capable of having deep and stimulating conversations (even though we were mature adults only around 10% of the time). She would encourage class debate, preferring to discuss rather than lecture. She kept her classes engaged and made sure that we not only learned but also enjoyed learning.
Like her personality, Mrs. Martinak’s lessons were straightforward and direct, sprinkled with humor and wit. Her insights made us see things through a new lens; there would be a detail we hurriedly skimmed over but that was crucial to the plot, or a specific syntax that revealed a profound aspect of the writer’s style. She took classics that seemed anachronistic, like Pride and Prejudice and A Farewell to Arms, and made them pertinent to the modern day. Never afraid to give us her opinion, she would tell us exactly what she thought of Jane Bennet (a ninny) and of our fellow classmates. Refusing to accept our half-hearted, senioritis-induced excuses, Mrs. Martinak always demanded our best. I only hope she knows that she was the rare teacher who also brought out our best, too.
Her absence will surely impact JP Stevens greatly. It will be hard to replace her vivacity, her vigor, and her vibrant spirit. On behalf of all your students, I would like to say: thank you, Mrs. Martinak, for letting us end our time at JP Stevens with a bang.
Correction: The print version of this article originally misspelled the name of Austen’s main protagonist. Her name is Jane Bennet, not Jane Bennett.