From hairdresser to teacher: Sara Mendoza proves it’s never too late to follow your dream
Bay Area elementary school teacher and STARS grant recipient Sara Mendoza has worn many hats, but a graduation cap and gown fit her best. Simple perseverance took this former hairdresser from the beauty shop to the classroom.
As a College of Education graduate, Mendoza has found considerable success in her elementary school classroom teaching kindergartners and first graders, many of whom are not native English speakers. This success helped land her the STARS grant funds she used to obtain additional teaching materials for her students. And she also believes her unconventional career path makes her a better teacher overall. “I have been a farm worker, a warehouse employee for a paint factory, a hairdresser, a waitress, an IT tech, an education specialist,” says Mendoza. “Those jobs were all great. But there is something about being a teacher — working with kids and seeing them grow in their education — that is just awesome.
While Mendoza graduated high school with the goal of becoming a teacher, it didn’t happen right away. She struggled with college coursework, and eventually decided to pursue a career as a hairdresser instead. “I was having a wonderful time in my new career, but I always wanted to go back to school and get a degree,” says Mendoza.
After a few years, Mendoza looked into adult education options, and decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Management at University of Phoenix.
She also landed a job there. Mendoza worked for various departments at University of Phoenix while pursuing her degree, including a stint as an Enrollment Advisor. But when she accepted a position with the College of Education, it spurred her to finally pursue her life’s dream of becoming a teacher.
“When I started working there, I looked at what the Master of Arts in Education degree program had to offer,” Mendoza says. “I saw it as my chance to reach the career goal I’d had ever since high school.”
Mendoza has witnessed first-hand the long-term benefits of the STARS grant, which University of Phoenix established to offer funds for classroom supplies to Bay Area teachers who are also University alumni. She has plenty of advice to share with other teachers seeking grant funding.
“When it comes to applying for grants, it really helps to find the particular needs of your students and apply for funds accordingly,” she explains. “Using the Zoo-phonics® program I purchased with the STARS grant, I was able to improve my teaching [methods] with my English-language learners.” Not only that, the success Mendoza has achieved with the Zoo-phonics® program has inspired other teachers in her district to use the program with their students as well.
Would Mendoza ever leave the classroom in favor of yet another career? She insists that’s not in the cards. “I just love what I do,” she says. “That is what keeps me here.”
Zoo-phonics® is a registered trademark of Zoo-phonics Inc.