Mary Wasiak was raised in a conservative family that always encouraged her to pursue a practical career. She always knew that she would attend graduate school but found herself in law school without interest or aptitude because it would lead to a sensible career. Little did she know that teaching would turn out to be her dream job in the near future.
It’s OK to Make a Career Change
Working full-time while in law school, Mary took a hiatus after her second year and returned to school older, wiser, and newly married to finish her law degree. With a focus on family law, property management, and contracts post graduation, Mary found her legal career unfulfilling and sought other ways to play to her strengths. While she waited for her “aha” moment to happen in law, it never did so she began to explore other options.
For three years she worked at Planned Parenthood doing outreach presentations in schools and she loved the rapport she built with the teenagers. She also worked for a Women’s Advocacy Project serving women in small communities that were victims of domestic violence and teaching them how to represent themselves.
Mary conducted a myriad of informational interviews searching for a better career fit when one day her mother asked “What do you love to do?” and Mary responded “I’m a teacher.” And so this epiphany led Mary to apply for the Texas Teaching Fellows program.
Trading the Private Sector for Public Schools
The six week intensive certification was part of a full year of instruction, observations, career counseling and student teaching. Mary then flexed her newly honed teaching muscles through a placement with The New Teacher Project which matches teachers with schools in need. TNTP is highly competitive with an acceptance rate of only 15% and focuses on retraining career changers so it was a perfect fit for Mary.
Mary now teaches in an ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom where the majority of her students are of Mexican or Hispanic origin. She also has one Taiwanese student. Her Spanish speaking skills have improved tremendously and Mary is pleased to be able to communicate effectively with her students and their parents. While a cacophony of languages are spoken regularly in her class, the emphasis is on English language acquisition.
Play to Your Strengths
Mary finds great value in her new career as a teacher where she can play to her strengths all the time but admits the transition to teaching was a struggle. “I had to trust my instincts…” as the first six months proved to be a real challenge trying to figure out the right position within the new teaching realm.
As a teacher, Mary earns less money than she would as an attorney but you can’t put a price tag on passion and what the jobs lacks in salary it makes up for in benefits and security. But, most of all the realization that she is making a difference and serving the students is what makes Mary content.
Many people envision the easy schedule of teachers with summers off and early afternoon quitting times but Mary says this is not always the case. She struggles with work life balance in her new teaching role but she went in with her eyes open. With 7, 10, and 14 year old children of her own at home, Mary has to be creative and energetic to keep up with the pace of her 50+ hour work week.
After a 9 hour work day, Mary often goes back to email at home in the evenings because the ESL program at her school is brand new and there is always room to do more. Yet Mary considers herself lucky in her new career as a teacher and tells her kids that “Success is living the life that you want.” This has turned out to be a family mantra for her household.
Mary has plans to stay at Crockett High School in Austin, Texas for at least 5 years. She is learning so much on the job and wants to stay to see the changes she is part of creating have a chance to be implemented. Her goal is to be a great teacher and perhaps work more on curriculum design and advisory lessons. Mary is certainly well on her way for in 2009 she was awarded Teacher of Promise.
Mary’s Advice and Action Steps:
- Trust your instincts and do what you love.
- Take the time to figure it out. Talk with everybody you know to learn about other career options.
- It’s OK to retool or seek additional credentialing later in life.
- Lead with your strengths and you will be happy.
Quote: “Success is living the life that you want.” Mary Wasiak
The New Teacher Project www.tntp.org
Texas Teaching Fellows Program www.texasteachingfellows.org