Alumna Success Story
By Rebecca Mieliwocki, 7th-grade English teacher, Luther Burbank Middle School, Burbank Unified School District and California Teacher of the Year 2012
I didn’t start out to become a teacher. As the daughter of two veteran public school teachers, I tried at first to go the opposite route and blaze my own trail. After all, not too many 18-year olds want to follow in the exact footsteps of their parents. I experimented with other careers. However, life has a funny and ironic way of working out. Before too long, I realized that as the daughter of two great teachers, I wasn’t content being anything else but a teacher. It’s in my blood, part of my DNA, and there was simply no denying it. Much to my parents’ delight, and now mine, I planted my feet firmly and happily in the classroom, a place I belong more than anywhere else.
My teacher’s journey started in 1995, when I received my teaching credential in Secondary English from CSUN and was hired by Burbank Unified School District after attending a job fair at the university in one of my final weeks on campus. How serendipitous to have connected with the school district that would provide me with tremendous opportunities for personal and professional growth over the next 15 years. I started out teaching 10th and 12th grade at John Burroughs High School and now teach 7th-grade English at Luther Burbank Middle School, where I have found my perfect match. I am one of the few humans on planet Earth who can say with utter conviction that I am head over heels in love with 7th graders. There’s no other grade for me, that’s for sure.
If you were to cut me open and study my rings like a tree, you’d find out that inside I’m a 12-year-old goofball dying to get out. While I am always a consummate professional, there’s nothing in the playbook that says teachers need to be stuffy or staid or that learning has to be dry and dull. Anyone who’s spent time with me knows that I find any excuse to be creative, to giggle, or to squeeze joy out of every moment. Life is too short and too difficult to have anything less than the most engaged, enthusiastic, teachers while in school. Who better to teach 12-year olds, then, than someone who understands them for exactly who they are and celebrates their weird, wild wonderfulness?
If I accomplish anything with my students, I am proud to say it’s that when they leave my classroom, they are better people than when they walked through my door. They are children who know they are important and that a great future lies ahead of them if they are willing to match their talents with effort and creativity. They know that learning is exciting and that strong communication skills will help them make the most of their lives. They leave able to write clearly and compellingly about what they believe. They know life will throw them many curveballs, but they have all the tools they need to handle them. They leave loving to read and knowing that the great mysteries of life can be answered through close and careful study of the written word. They begin to make adventures of their own lives. Every year, I’m saddened to see each group go, but I know they go as better humans. That I have a small part in this process makes me very, very proud.
[Editor’s note: Rebecca Mieliwocki shared her award-winning journey with me, which I’ll summarize here. After receiving her district’s award, she was entered into the county competition, which required her to write a portfolio of essays. In her writings (an experience she describes as “pretty grueling”) Rebecca reflected upon being an educator in our current climate. Because of the high quality of her writings and her interviews with officials and former award recipients, Rebecca was selected the Los Angeles County Teacher of the Year. Next, she was one of ten selected from 70 candidates statewide be to observed teaching on site. Her teaching skills catapulted her to be the one out of the five teachers honored as California Teachers of the Year to represent our state at the national contest in Washington D.C, where in January 2012, she was selected to be among the four finalists for National Teacher of the Year. This issue of InnovatED will go to press before the final decision is made; for an update, therefore, please check the National Teacher of the Year website.]