Exceptional Educator: Award-winning ESOL teacher Mary Schmidt

Mary Schmidt almost didn’t become a teacher.

After becoming “disillusioned” about teaching during her college student teaching, she considered changing career choices. But then the Peace Corps visited her college and after graduating, she left for Africa. Her experience in Africa led her to teach English as a second language, or ESOL. Now having taught for 20 years, she was recently recognized by the state for her achievements in teaching the subject.

Schmidt, who has been teaching at Riverwood International Charter School in Sandy Springs for 15 years, was recognized as a Georgia Department of Education STAR ESOL teacher in May. She was one of 10 teachers recognized statewide and was nominated by Riverwood senior Anh Tran, according to a press release.

She also started a program called Steam Camp that allows Lake Forest Elementary ESOL 5th graders to visit Riverwood on Saturdays to experience attending high school classes.

“These students have many [hurdles] they must overcome, but to be inspired at an early age is important and memorable,” Schmidt said.

Q: Why did you decide to become a teacher?

A: I wanted to be a CBS reporter or a missionary to Germany, but my school counselor said they did not have missionaries in Germany and only men were CBS reporters. I loved playing school and loved children, so I decided to be a teacher. I also had a great PE teacher in middle school who inspired me and a third grade teacher who said I could do anything I wanted if I wanted it. She is the one who taught me to read!

Q: What drew you to teach ESOL?

A: After graduating in three years from university and having a less impressive student teaching experience, I was very disillusioned about teaching. I was not sure what I was going to do, and the last month before I was to graduate, the Peace Corps came to my university campus to recruit for the program. I signed up and told them I wanted to go to Africa. I believe it was meant to be because I graduated in June and in August I was in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I taught science and did teacher training while I was in Peace Corps. The experiences of Peace Corps led me to ESOL teaching.

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