It simply took a few transitions — namely a 21-year stint in Bank of America’s commercial lending support area and five additional years as a T-shirt entrepreneur — to get her there.
On Friday, the 59-year-old was named the state’s Region 2 Secondary Teacher of the Year and received her award directly from ESC2 Executive Director Dr. Rick Alvarado during a presentation in San Antonio. The English instructor is one of 20 teachers statewide to receive this honor. One of those 20 teachers will ultimately be named state teacher of the year.
Despite having to do quite a bit of legwork to be considered a participant under consideration for the honor, Wolff said she still couldn’t believe her ears when she was told she had been selected.
“In fact, when I asked the principal who called me at home to tell me about it, I said ‘Really?’” she said with a smile. “He said, ‘Yes, REALLY.’ I said ‘Are you SERIOUS?’ I thought he was joking. I couldn’t figure out how they picked me. The principal was still joking about my reaction after the press conference in Corpus Christi.”
Wolff’s nomination came as delightful news — but no real surprise — to many of her friends and colleagues on Facebook.
“This is one classy lady in and out of the classroom,” wrote Whitney Orsak on FB. “She truly has a heart of gold and strives for the best for her students! Congratulations, Mrs. Wolff, for all your hard work and service!
In a follow-up post, Linda Martin Alderson wholeheartedly agreed.
“Most appropriate to an outstanding teacher,” Alderson posted.
Added Kalli Escamilla on FB: “Always knew you were one of the best.”
During a Monday interview, the well-thought-of teacher said she was humbled — and a bit surprised —by the honor, given the lengthy road she took to get into the teaching profession. Wolff, incidentally, has been married to veteran Walmart pharmacy manager Floyd Wolff for 16 years. Together they collectively have five adult children ranging in age from 26 to 34. They also have a 2-year-old granddaughter.
Born in Fairbanks, Alaska but raised in Stockdale, she holds a masters degree in business from Baylor University.
She has worked in a great many offices — in cities such as Baltimore, Wichita, Kansas, San Francisco and Chicago, to name a few.
“This is my third career,” Wolff explained. “My very first day in the classroom I was 51 years old and this is the beginning of my ninth year in teaching. I worked 21 years in the commercial lending support area of what you know as Bank of America. For 21 years I traveled all over the United States and wrote policies and procedures and trained individuals in those.”
As it stands, there are 20 distinct regions represented in this competition. The process selects nominees to represent one elementary and one secondary school. Participants were required to fill out a lengthy nomination form much like one would a resume. Issues have to be discussed and reviewed such as the reasons the teacher went into the field of education, what rewards are sought by that journey and what the teacher believes he or she is contributing to the field of education.
“It was like a multiple page request,” she explained. “MLA format. 12.5. It was like writing college essays over again. When I turned my packet in, it was 11 pages long to comply with all the requirement. All the teachers in the Coastal Bend who were nominated completed packets and there was some type of review process where they accepted me as the one. Some of the requirements were two pages and some no more than one.”
She said she was notified in March or April she was the school’s nominee and the packet of aforementioned information was required by the end of the second week in June.
“Because of my schedule at school I didn’t even see the packet until school was out,” she said. “The original packet was forwarded to Austin and some group there will review all 20 packets and narrow that group down to five. Then there is an interview process for the top five.”
After marrying her husband in Pawnee a little over a decade and a half ago, Wolff soon realized there was not a nearby Bank of America Branch for 80-odd miles So, rather than travel three weeks out of the month she decided to choose a new career path. She “politely declined and left.”
“My good friend from church and I started a T-shirt shop in town,” she said. “A lady down the street ended up buying the business from us. It was located across the square over by Campbell’s bookstore. My partner’s circumstances changed and she wanted to sell and here I was with my MBA. Not too many places in Three Rivers or Beeville or George West for someone with an MBA who is 50 years old. So it felt like the perfect time to go through alternative certification.”
But, to be honest, she at this point ended back up exactly where she originally wanted to be — poised as a teacher to help educate young and impressionable minds.
“I finally got the chance to do what I truly, always wanted to do,” she said. “When I first graduated from high school, I wanted to be a high school English teacher. I was 51 before I got into a classroom and it was three years after that before I actually got around to teaching high school. It has been a journey.”
Never let it be said that the attention she has received has robbed her of any forward momentum. She said she recently redesigned her curriculum and her approach to it after attending a summer institute for advanced placement for grades 7 though 11. She said she is truly excited about the material that will be covered because of these advancements.
But still, despite her distinctive careers, she said she was nonetheless “flabbergasted” to be selected as a teacher of the year.
“I tell my students two things about my process — one is that if they have a dream and it is worth pursuing they should never give it up,” she said. “It took me a long time and I went down lots of different paths than I thought I would. But in the long run, I made my dreams come true. So I tell my kids, it doesn’t matter what your background is. Just because you don’t think your dream is immediately accessible keep working on it. Don’t give up. That’s the thing.”
And the money?
“I tell my kids to not give up their dreams and to not pick a career for the money,” she said. “You hear a lot of people say, ‘I want to do this because it makes a lot of money.’ But think about it, when I started teaching I made half of what I made when I left Bank of America. And I couldn’t be happier. Money is not everything.”
Ben Tinsley is a reporter for The Progress newspaper in Three Rivers. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com or by phone at 361-786-3022. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BenTinsley, Google at http://plus.google.com/+BenTinsley or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.