Embracing the Limitless Opportunities of an Education Career
College of Education alumna Rena Mirkin has had a rich and varied career as an educator: elementary teacher, counselor, high school principal, accreditation investigator, and consultant. Her story shows that education is a career that allows you to reinvent yourself many times and it is a career that can show you the world.
Education wasn’t Mirkin’s first plan. She was a history major and had aspired to a career in art history. But it was the 1960s and career opportunities were limited for women. Mirkin saw that if she wanted a job, elementary teaching was the best option and switched her major to elementary education with a minor in history.
Mirkin had come to UMass sight unseen, but she was offered a scholarship, and it gave her the opportunity to live somewhere other than Boston for the first time in her life, so she took the leap. Mirkin relished the experiences of attending UMass. She credits her freshman history teacher, Dr. Franklin Bacon Wickwire, with being the first teacher to ever push her to go beyond memorizing information and to expand her thinking. The experience of becoming president of her sorority was also an important part of her love for UMass, and she was proud that it was the only non-discriminatory national sorority at the time.
Most importantly, Mirkin credits her teacher preparation at UMass for giving her the foundation for a long and fulfilling career. “When I retired, I said, how fortunate am I to retire loving what I do more than when I started,” she asserts. “There are few people who can say that and mean it, truly mean it. UMass set the roots for a really excellent career for which I had passion and to which I was committed.”
UMass set the roots for a really excellent career for which I had passion and to which I was committed.
After she graduated, Mirkin taught in a elementary sixth-grade classroom in Quincy, MA for five years. Like many female teachers at the time, when she had her children, she gave up her job. A few years later, parenting two small children, her husband came home one night and said, “Do you know we haven’t had a conversation in two months that didn’t involve toilets or diapers?” The next day she called Boston College and began a masters program in counseling psychology, which she completed in 1980.
When she finished her masters, Mirkin decided to move into guidance counseling. She loved teaching, but thought counseling would give her more of a career challenge. She worked as a counselor in Reading, MA and went on to serve as the assistant principal of Milton High School and principal of Reading Memorial High School. In 1996, Mirkin finished her second master’s degree at UMass Boston, in education administration, and became principal of Wellesley High School.
We talk about making global citizens, but this really made us global citizens, and allowed us to truly understand other cultures, particularly Chinese. We spread our wings when people were tucking them in.
When Mirkin retired from the WAB, she took a position as senior academic advisor with the BELA Education Group, a two-year program in China that prepares students to attend US Universities. The position allowed her to return to the US, travelling to China three times a year to lead teacher professional development programs.
After BELA, Mirkin worked for two years with the Massachusetts International Academy, a similar program in Marlborough, MA for Chinese students to prepare for universities in the US. Currently, Mirkin works as a senior consultant to Bay State Education, an organization the helps first-generation college-bound students, most of them from Chinese families, to help them prepare for and succeed in college.
Mirkin also serves with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), which has given her more opportunities to travel around the world, participating in school inspections. In 2014, on a visit to Dubai, the Dubai School Inspection Bureau recruited her to work directly with them, and for 4 years, she traveled there for weeks at a time to inspect the 150 foreign schools in the country.
Kids are kids…The same issues that were in Wellesley and Reading, were in China. It didn’t matter whether the kid was from Brazil, Israel, or Korea. Kids are kids, and I loved that.
Having worked with students from all over the world, Mirkin says unequivocally that “kids are kids…The same issues that were in Wellesley and Reading, were in China. It didn’t matter whether the kid was from Brazil, Israel, or Korea. Kids are kids, and I loved that.” No matter where she taught, her great joy was helping students who struggled find ways to be successful.
For education students who aspire to follow her path, Mirkin recommends that above all, they make sure that teaching is their passion.“These kids are with you in the car going home, they’re with you while you’re eating dinner, they’re in your mind, they’re in your heart,” she emphasizes. “Make sure you have a passion, that you love students, and that you’re willing to go above and beyond.” She also encourages all educators to take an opportunity to teach abroad, “to not just advance your career, but to deepen and broaden your understandings in a way that is impossible if you stay in your own community.”
In appreciation of the opportunities UMass afforded her and the fruitful career the College of Education helped her launch, Mirkin and her husband have included the college in their estate plans. Their generosity will help nurture another generation of teachers who can fully embrace the pleasures of a career in education. “There’s no career I can imagine that could have given me the satisfaction and fulfillment than this one did, and it began at UMass Amherst.”
There’s no career I can imagine that could have given me the satisfaction and fulfillment than this one did, and it began at UMass Amherst.