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BeaAtrice Mazyck isn’t just changing students’ lives—she aims to transform the entire educational system.
Her grandmother taught out of a one-room schoolhouse in rural Salters, South Carolina. Her mother taught in the same town, spending more than 20 years working with little ones in Head Start before becoming a public school teacher and reading specialist.
So the drive to better lives of children through education, you could say, is in BeaAtrice Mazyck’s blood. It’s what steered her away from the idea of law school and propelled her toward the high school classroom.
“It’s almost a family tradition that we have,” says Mazyck. “From the day I went into the classroom, I’ve been working tirelessly ever since. I wanted to be in the system, wanted to make changes to the education system for the benefit of students. I’m all in.”
Today Mazyck, 30, teaches eleventh grade history at C.A. Johnson High School in Columbia, South Carolina. But while she is passionate about teaching students, her eyes are set on a future prize: transforming the education system. It’s no small goal, but she is charting a path to get there.
One year after earning her master’s degree in education from Grand Canyon University, she started working toward her doctorate at the University of Phoenix. That led to her being selected as one of only 17 fellows in the Teachers for Transformation Academy, a program that encourages and inspires teachers to work toward education reform. It is part of Students First, a movement to transform public education headed by Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school district.
“We get input from teachers that we can share with legislators that they can put to use in legislation that reforms education,” says Mazyck. Because the program focuses on education reform at the state level, the ideas and input Mazyck will be supplying during her year-long fellowship could help shape the future of education in South Carolina.
“It’s not general, one-size-fits-all education reform,” says Mazyck. “It’s catered toward what’s necessary for your state. Teachers for Transformation has given me the opportunity to have my input and my voice as a teacher. I’ve had opportunities to meet some key figures in the legislature who impact the writing of laws and who can take my input into consideration.”
As part of the fellowship, Mazyck works to recruit teachers to the Students First movement, hosts mixers for educators, will have the opportunity to testify before public officials and speak at major educational forums on reform-related topics. But most importantly, it will help bring her closer to her dream job: educational consultant and, hopefully, opening her own school.
“As a consultant, I would work with teachers to gather information about school leadership and work with principals to make sure they’re providing the necessary leadership,” says Mazyck. Her doctoral thesis focused on ways to minimize teacher turnover. She believes that ineffective leadership is a huge part of the problem.
“I want to work with principals to make sure that they are providing the leadership that’s necessary for the teachers who want to stay there,” Mazyck says. “Teachers leave because they’re unsatisfied due to leadership. That is ultimately affecting the students because there is inconsistent instruction.”
Until then, Mazyck is motivated by the improvements she sees every day in her students. While some might shy away from spending all day working with teenagers, Mazyck relishes the opportunity to prime them for adulthood.
“My passion is seeing the growth in students,” she says. “From the beginning of the school year to the end of my course, to see how much they’ve grown, how much they’ve matured and definitely how much they’ve learned, that’s really where it is for me. The return on the investment that we’ve put in—that’s the best part about it.”
She’s now teaching U.S. History and the Constitution and has learned one crucial trick that helps get through to high schoolers: watch a lot of TV. Whenever she can relate a historical fact back to something going on in popular culture, she sees light bulbs go off around her classroom. For instance, while teaching on economic issues faced by America shortly after declaring independence from Great Britain, she related the situation to a popular credit score commercial.
“There’s a credit score commercial where they had two big guys, and this little short guy, and on his number, it was 400-something. Everybody else had 700-and-something for their credit score,” she says. “I told them the United States was the little guy in the middle because England and some of the other European countries were thriving while we were just starting out. We were at the bottom struggling, trying to get there.”
It was a random connection but it worked—her students not only paid attention, they got what she was trying to teach. It’s those moments, when she knows she’s taken an obtuse concept and made it accessible, that excite her about her job.
And since she received her Ed.D. in 2012, she serves not only as a teacher to her students but as a role model of what you can accomplish if you stay focused and work hard. Attaining her doctorate while working full time and coaching two high school sports teams was no small challenge. But the benefits were worth the three years of intense work.
“I wanted to be a consultant for leaders, and getting the Ed.D. makes me sound a little bit more qualified than just being Ms. Mazyck,” she says. “Now I’m Dr. Mazyck, and that sounds like you actually know what you’re talking about.”
Cynthia Ramnarace is an independent journalist based in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. She specializes in personal finance, health and older adult issues. Find out more at cynthiaramnarace.com.