When June Martinez walks through the halls of Half Hollow Hills High School East, students run up to her for a high-five or to deliver good news, like college acceptance letters.
Martinez, 49, knows a lot about deliveries and letters. The English teacher worked for the United States Postal Service for almost 20 years before finding a new career in the classroom.
She started out in 1995 as a letter carrier in the Bronx. After only a few days, Martinez had what she says was one of the most memorable encounters of her postal career — with a Rottweiler.
After shaking the gate to a home — as mail carriers are advised to do — Martinez had walked over to the mailbox when she said she felt the dog’s presence behind her. She turned around slowly to find it staring at her from the bottom of a set of stairs with a look that said to her, “You got in, but you can’t get out.”
She frantically knocked on the door, worried she was going to be “eaten alive.” Luckily, the residents were home and were able to collect the dog before any harm was done.
After a year delivering mail, she moved into Postal Service supervisory positions, eventually becoming a postmaster in Massachusetts.
“I was happy to bid [the Postal Service] goodbye,” she said, noting the six-day workweeks and time missed with her husband and three children. “It was a long career, it was a good career and I wouldn’t change it. [But] I could not see myself staying there for another 20 years.”
Her husband, Kenneth Coard, has been her greatest support, likely because he was once in her shoes. The pair had been lifelong friends — he was neighbors with her cousin growing up — and he was working as a stockbroker when they wed in 2000. Martinez encouraged her husband — who was also a junior high basketball coach in the Bronx — to change careers and become a math teacher.
“He loved . . . [coaching] so much and he would talk about it so much I convinced him he should just teach,” she said. “He convinced me to teach later on, so it’s amazing how life works out.”
Martinez moved back to New York in 2009 and later returned to Stony Brook University — where she had earned her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts — to pursue a master’s in secondary education. After graduating in 2013, Martinez spent a year teaching preschool at Southampton Elementary. The next year she started at Half Hollow Hills East.
“It was tough,” Martinez said. “I almost gave up when I started.”
But Martinez knew she was making a difference when a student asked to borrow her phone and later came away from her call visibly upset.
“She broke down and cried and she shared some things with me and I think from that point on she felt confident enough to come and confide in me,” Martinez said. “I was the first person she told when she got accepted to college.”
These days, Martinez and her husband start their commutes at 5 a.m. from their home in Southampton, she to Dix Hills and he to Uniondale High School. They meet at Dunkin’ Donuts each morning and also talk on the phone during their drives.
Coard stopped coaching basketball this year so Martinez could coach kickline for the first time. Twice a week, she’s at school for 12 hours.
“But I wouldn’t trade it,” Martinez said. “I think it’s worth it and I think just helping . . . [the students] improve and seeing that improvement really makes it rewarding.”
Editor’s Note: Newsday.com is talking to Long Island teachers who were in another career before going into education. Do you have a story to share about finding your way into the classroom? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.