Shaun Martin has known since he was 12 that he wanted to be a teacher and now his efforts are being recognized. First as Arizona’s Rural Teacher of the Year for 2011 by the Arizona Rural Schools Association and now as the 2012 Monsanto Fund Rural Teacher of the Year by the National Rural Education Association (NREA).
“He’s a very inspirational person to everyone he meets,” NREA Executive Director John Hill told Indian Country Today Media Network when asked why Martin was chosen.
“We nominated Mr. Martin for one reason, he embodies the spirit and qualities of a leader,” Dough Clauschee, Chinle High School principal, said. “His foundational belief system surrounds the Navajo culture and his actions reflect that of a caring adult to our students. He has demonstrated that he believes in a healthy mind, body and spirit, and he sends this message out to the students through his teaching, coaching and running.”
And running is something Martin started doing with his father when he was just 4 years old. “I never questioned why I had to run every morning at such a young age, I just ran,” Martin said in his biography. “One summer morning after the run, before fifth grade, my father told me why we ran. ‘As a Navajo man, you must use running to prepare yourself for the future. Running will strengthen your spirit, strengthen your mind to deal with any type of hardship and keep your body healthy for a positive life ahead. Running in the morning to meet the sun and holy people is how we celebrate life, it’s how we pray and it’s a mentor to teach us about life.’”
Martin’s father, Allen, spent his childhood running away from boarding schools until he was shipped off to a program in Utah to finish high school where he was too far from home to run away. It was there that Allen learned how to live in both worlds.
“They cut all his hair off and made him conform to ‘their’ way of life,” Martin said. “Being born and raised near the north rim of the Grand Canyon, he was a free spirit. He was taught to live like the generations of Navajo people before him. The boarding school could not make him forget his past nor lock him in… My father used distance running as a catalyst to teach me all he knew from both worlds so I would not have the same hardships.”
Martin focused on school so he could accomplish his goal of becoming a teacher. During his senior year of high school Martin was recruited at a Division I university and got an academic scholarship from the Navajo Nation. He attended Northern Arizona University (NAU) and decided to major in health promotions for school and never looked back.
He graduated from NAU in 2004 and was hired at Chinle High School to teach freshman physical education and to coach cross-country and track and field.
“It was everything I envisioned as a seventh-grade boy,” Martin said in his bio. “I was a student all my life, with a flick of a switch, I was now the teacher. I was now the coach. I was now the role model.
“I vowed to teach the most valuable trait I learned in my lifetime, the trait of turning negative into positive. No matter how bad a situation may become, you have to find a positive.”
And he’s done well, as Clauschee says he’s a positive role model for all the students at Chinle, especially the male students.
“He provides a solid foundation for males to believe in themselves thereby giving them some much needed support,” Clauschee said. “The students’ smiles and attention on him only proves they have that rapport with him and he provides that much needed partnership, parental support, and teaching that every student deserves. He is our teacher of the year, but much more—our friend, colleague, and daily reminder of what we all need to be.”
The Monsanto Fund award comes with a $2,000 honorarium for Martin and $1,000 for his school district to purchase instructional materials and supplies.
Martin will be honored at the NREA Annual Convention October 11 to 14 in Cincinnati, Ohio.