Belen Teacher of the Year


When Margie Zamora talks, she uses her hands. They are small, subtle movements, and as the conversation goes on, you realize they aren’t just random movements but instead purposeful language. American Sign Language to be specific.

Zamora learned ASL when her father began losing his hearing and she started her career in education 18 years ago, working for Belen Consolidated Schools at Belen High School as a sign language interpreter.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Belen Consolidated Schools Teacher of the Year Margie Zamora has high expectations of her students. The Infinity High School teacher said the key is to understand what the students already know and are interested in, and build from there.

Since then she has gone on to earn her master’s in special education, a teacher at Belen Middle School, Belen High and now Infinity High School.

Zamora can add one more item to her list of accomplishments — she is this years district teacher of the year.

After working at BHS for three years, the student who needed an interpreter graduated.

“They didn’t want me to leave, so they asked me if I was willing to get a degree in education,” Zamora said. After earning her degree in 2002, she taught at the middle school, BHS again and two years ago, moved to Infinity, the district’s alternative high school. There, she teaches 9th through 12 grade English, reading and literature, and sign language. Zamora also teaches some of Infinity’s dual credit classes in partnership with the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus, where she has taught introduction to sign language for nine years.

Education has become a bit of a family business, for Zamora. Her husband, Ken Zamora, teaches at BHS, her son Chris Villellason teaches at Infinity as well, while daughters-in-law Courtney Villellason and Nichole Villellason teach at the middle school and Desert View Elementary, respectively.

“We don’t come to work, we go to school,” Zamora said. “I like to think I learn from my students every day. What makes it fun is seeing students start to understand things that apply to the rest of their life.”

On the day of this interview, Zamora’s brunette hair is shot through with a few strands of silver and pink tinsel, which begged the question, “So, are you the ‘fun’ teacher?’”

She laughs.

“I don’t think my students would say I’m the fun teacher. I’m more the tough mom,” she said. “My standards are really high and they end up appreciating that later on. Maybe not at the end of the school year, but later in life — they will come back and tell me ‘You made me be my best.’”

While teaching at BHS, a student failed one of Zamora’s English classes.

“I encountered her at Infinity and she wanted me to be her teacher,” she said. “She got an A.”

Because Infinity gets a different kind of student, Zamora said she and the whole staff has to find the skills students already have, what they already know and build on that.

“Students in general are a work in progress. And our school, Infinity, is unique in that a lot of our students have been out of school for a period of time,” she said. “So you have to be able to come to where they are and build from there.”

The IHS students also bring a desire to learn that might not be seen in other students their age, Zamora said.

“Like I said, a lot of them have been out of school for some time. And they come back to get their education. They want to learn,” she said. “A lot of them are very hard on the outside; many of them have had a loss of some kind. You have to work to earn their trust, to break that shell. Once you do, they are some of the neatest kids.”

One thing Zamora appreciates about Infinity is that the whole staff is open to doing things differently, thinking outside the box to help the students learn.

“Our principal is not afraid to try new things and work with the students with different needs to help them succeed,” she said.

And seeing students succeed means having people willing to enter the education field, something a lot of college students are wary of right now with increased student testing and changing evaluation methods for teachers.

Even with all the challenges, Zamora encourages students to choose that path. But they can’t be ambivalent about their choice.

“You have to love students and have a love for learning,” she said.

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