Open-Ended Questions With Mr. Ortiz

Miles Clark, Contributor

As I walk down the lower LA hallway, I am not surprised to hear a cackle coming out of Mr. Ortiz’s classroom. Looking into the classroom, I see what appears to be random words scrawled all across the

 whiteboard. Cars, bicycles, weather, shoes, chairs, etc., no apparent correlation between them. Senior Seamus Lubamersky walks into the classroom, and Mr. Ortiz immediately turns to him and asks a question: “What do you want to learn about?” 

Mr. Ortiz was born in El Paso, Texas. All of his school years were spent there, and he even attended the University of Texas at El Paso for college. Before this, however, his coach came to him with a job opportunity: teaching tumbling at the YMCA. He was approached by the coach of a gymnastics team, and he ended up training them for the course of a full year. This was one of the few jobs that Mr. Ortiz had outside of teaching students, as he stated “I’ve been working with kids pretty much all my working life.”

While at the University of Texas-El Paso, Mr. Ortiz started by studying educational psychology. However, the major wasn’t right for him, as he said, “The university I was at was more of a behavioral theme, whereas I was more of a humanist.” He switched to a philosophy major but before graduating he panicked, realizing that there were not many opportunities for philosophers. He knew that he had “always wanted to be a teacher,” so he finished his teaching credentials to follow his dream. 

As any of Mr. Ortiz’s students could attest, he has a very unique way of teaching. Most, if not all of his assignments are designed vaguely, leaving students to solve the problem in any way they want to. Mr. Ortiz chuckled and said, “I disguise my chaos with open questions” in response. As someone who has been teaching for many years, he has tried many different ways of teaching his students. He told me that earlier in his career, he had tried what most other teachers do and used assignments such as fill-in-the-blanks due to their ease to grade. Ultimately, this method of teaching did not stay for long, and Mr. Otiz began operating as we see him today.

Many students feel Mr. Ortiz’s signature questions are more useful than book questions. Senior Rayan Zouai said that “Mr. Ortiz always brought a real world side to statistics,” which allowed him to view statistics in a different light than before.

Some of Mr. Ortiz’s favorite teaching moments stem from his open-ended questions. “I want to know what the students think of, that’s where I get excited.” Recently, one of his statistics students drew the faces of dice in order to visualize the possible combinations. This innovative way of thinking is exactly what Mr. Ortiz designs his questions to accomplish, and he told me how thrilled he was to see the student’s work.

Mr. Snaith, a math teacher and personal friend of Mr. Ortiz’s, told me about his first impressions of Ortiz from many many years ago. He described him as easygoing and kind from their first interaction. And none of this has changed over the years, as Mr. Snaith still thinks of his friend as “a very caring person” who thinks first and foremost about his students. 

 “‘I’m not teaching mathematics, I’m teaching people, I’m teaching students,’” Ortiz said. His main focus in the class is not to make it challenging, to stress his students out for their grade, but instead to help his students enjoy the process of learning. “Mr. Ortiz is the best teacher I’ve had in my entire life,” Seamus Lubamersky said.

In his free time, Mr. Ortiz not only goes on many bike rides, but he also will attend teacher workshops in order to learn more about how to make learning more engaging for his students. It is at these workshops that he is able to talk to other teachers and figure out what works best for students. It allows him to learn different strategies of teaching that he has never tried before, which he utilizes for the benefit of his students.

While Mr. Ortiz teaches using open-ended questions in order to get new perspectives and ways of thinking, he also does not want to teach in the way that so many others do. “They almost want to make it teacher-proof,” he said, talking about having to teach AP classes. The freedom to choose fits his philosophy much better than any textbook can.

Mr. Snaith described their time spent riding bikes together. “Whenever we’re riding, he almost always rides with his vest unzipped. It floats back like a Superman cape.” Mr. Ortiz has a very carefree attitude in his daily life that is present in his classroom as well. It describes his signature teaching style and classroom antics to a T.