To many, Irwin Torres may seem like an average elementary education student on his way to graduation. But his story is anything but ordinary.
Torres is currently finishing his last semester in the accelerated elementary education program through the Newman Western Kansas Center in Dodge City, Kansas, and was recently recognized with a “Teachers of Promise” award.
Twice each year, the Kansas State Department of Education invites Kansas colleges and universities that offer teacher preparation programs to select two teacher education students, identified as Teachers of Promise, to participate in a specific professional learning and recognition opportunity. Currently, 23 institutions offer teacher preparation programs and most participate in these opportunities.
“Irwin is an outstanding student, but that is just one quality that makes him a remarkable person,” said Assistant Dean for Nontraditional Outreach Programs Jessica Bird. “Irwin has faced many challenges in his life. His perseverance and genuine kindness have made him a perfect candidate for the Teachers of Promise award, and I am very confident that he will be an outstanding educator who will change the lives of many.”
While Torres worked to complete his senior year at Dodge City High School, he also took dual college credits through Dodge City Community College. He graduated from high school with both his GED and his associate’s degree. This knocked a year off of his college career, allowing Torres to begin his education at Newman as a sophomore rather than a freshman.
One aspect that attracted Torres to the accelerated elementary education program, he said, is how fast-paced the learning environment is. “I’ve always had this thing where I’ve wanted to get done before all of my friends did,” he said. “The accelerated elementary education program is a 16-month program, so I knew I could do it quickly. I knew I could get my bachelor’s degree in less than two years, and that is what really drew me in.”
Torres added that not only was the program fast-paced, it gave him an enriching experience that allowed him to reach his final destination at a quicker pace.
“Throughout the program, we complete practicum courses, observe teachers and teach lessons. The practicum courses allow us to put our foot in the door and see how we are doing and what we need to work on, so that combined with the reflections our teachers give us really helps.”
One benefit of the program, Torres said, is the satisfaction of knowing that the professors want their students to succeed. In addition, Torres said the amount of support between fellow students has also contributed to his learning experience — both in and out of the classroom.
“We have a group chat so that we can communicate with each other and send out reminders if we need,” he said. “If we have issues with one of the assignments or don’t completely understand it, we will text our class group chat and people will start giving their inputs. We have friends that go above and beyond, and it helps that our group is so diverse.”
Torres said that one of the biggest perks of his education has been the close network of friends he has made throughout the program. “There are only six of us in our program right now, and I feel like I am going to have these six friends forever,” he said.
To students who are considering entering the accelerated teaching program at Newman, Torres said this is one of the best options out there.
“Nowhere else are (students) going to have such great connections with their classmates, the faculty and teachers,” Torres said. “Nowhere else are they going to build such great connections with the district they will eventually want to teach in."
Aside from schooling, Torres currently works four jobs, which include substitute teaching for the school district, working for a foreign exchange student program to help find host families for students as well as an after-school teen youth center in Dodge.
His biggest motivation for working throughout the duration of the education program, he said, is his family — specifically, his mother.
“My dad died when I was 7, so my mom has raised three kids on her own — one of whom is blind,” Torres said. “I will be the first one in my family to get a bachelor’s degree. I want to make sure that my mom can see that if something were to happen to her, she can at least know that one of her kids was okay.
“And that the whole time she struggled to put food on the table, give us shelter, to give us all the fun experiences that she has given us, I just want to show her that one of her kids took full advantage of it and was able to show that he can go above and beyond to make her proud. Plus, I want to make sure my mom gets more bragging rights.”
Torres said his mom is especially happy that she gets to brag to friends and family that she “has a teacher in the house.”
Torres plans to graduate from Newman in December and will officially begin his profession as a teacher during the spring semester. Torres accepted a position as a fifth-grade teacher at Miller Elementary in Dodge City and looks forward to teaching in the spring, he said.
Bird described Torres as a young man who deserves “nothing but the best.”
“He holds a very special place in my heart,” she said. “I look forward to watching him continue to excel in all that he does.”