Speaker shares his story with Moorhead Schools’ staff to show impact one teacher can have
August 29, 2019
Actor and singer William Martinez’s first language was American Sign Language, not spoken English.
Martinez, who grew up in a deaf household, shared his story and the impact one teacher had on his life when he spoke to district employees at the Moorhead Area Public Schools’ all-staff assembly on Aug. 26.
After his deaf mother and hearing father divorced when he was 3 years old, Martinez lived a quiet life with his mother. Unfortunately they moved frequently during his elementary years so he didn’t learn language and social skills at school and fell behind.
On the outside, Martinez was quiet, but on the inside he was full of dreams.
“You know what my dream was,” he said. “It was to be noticed and heard. I just wanted to fit in. I wanted to belong.”
In eighth-grade, Martinez was placed in choir because the other electives were full.
“That is where I met the teacher who changed my life,” he said. “My eighth-grade choir teacher, Mrs. Norma Freeman.”
Martinez said Mrs. Freeman never judged him, her classroom gave him a place to hang out after school, and eventually she pushed him to sing. He was chosen to sing a solo at a presentation for parents. Mrs. Freeman suggested that he could both sing and sign his song for his mother.
“I looked at my mom’s face and she was smiling,” Martinez said about the performance. “For the first time she got to hear me sing.”
Later, Martinez ended up living with his dad, who added hours to his daily commute so Martinez could attend the same school. Martinez said that through the determination of his dad and some incredible teachers he graduated from high school.
He went on to major in musical theater in college. Later he developed a presentation called “Signing the Song,” which shares his story through signs and song. He was asked to perform at a teacher convention, and it was arranged for Mrs. Freeman to be in the audience for that presentation.
“After 25 years I got to say thank you to the teacher who changed my life,” Martinez said.
Photo: At the Moorhead Area Public Schools’ all-staff assembly on Aug. 26, William Martinez uses a mix of storytelling, singing and signing to share his story of growing up in a deaf household and the teacher who changed his life.