Editor’s note: Heather Wallace is writing a series about alumni and current residents of the island community. Her goal is to help connect kids with people who have the experience and stories they need to know.
Back in the 80’s there was a fourth-grade teacher who taught at Orcas Elementary. Her name was Gail Brown. Those who were lucky enough to have had her as a teacher are not likely to forget her. She was the kind of teacher both students and parents dream about. Mrs. Brown was famous for using Coca-Cola and pizza to teach fractions, as well as her uncanny ability to bring a rag-tag bunch of kids together to put on her famous 4th grade plays.
Mandy Randolph, now a part-time teacher at the Orcas Public School District, fondly remembers this influential time in her life.
“I wanted to be a teacher ever since I had Gail Brown,” Randolph recalls. “We had to write the scripts [for the plays] and then memorize them. We probably missed a lot of what people would consider ‘the curriculum’ but the class was really disjointed and she brought us all together. We were [working] together as a team…she made everybody feel safe to take risks and learn together, ultimately building relationships.”
Mrs. Brown wasn’t the only person to influence Mandy’s decision to become an educator, though. Eric Simmons and Dennis McKinney ran a Sea and Sea Coast class where kids combined in-the-field marine biology studies with kayak-making skills. At that time, with two-hour blocks of class time, kids were able to be out on the beaches studying marine life and building kayaks for a combined period of over four hours.
“I remember becoming friends with people in that group that I would not have been friends with otherwise – [all] because we were in this process of learning together, in this safe way,” says Randolph. “Our fingers were all rough from tying the lashes of these kayaks. And it was amazing…so, [again], I knew I wanted to be a teacher.”
Around the time Mandy was in high school the internet was just becoming a thing. Orcas was perhaps a little more magical, and the types of careers you thought about pursuing were very often a product of the types of careers you saw on the island.
After graduation, Mandy did just what she said she would do since the 4th grade. She enrolled in the University of Washington, joined a Freshman interest group revolved around teaching, and started on the education track. It was at this point she was given an analogy that would stick with her to this day – that education, like many careers, was like climbing a ladder. You had to pay your dues to get to the top. And those dues could take a long time.
6 years later, with a ton of debt amassed, she graduated from Western Washington University with her teaching certificate and a degree in Sociology – which she finds incredibly ironic.
“When I look back [I knew] I wanted to build relationships because that’s what Gail Brown was doing. She was building relationships – herself to her students and the kids into each other. I wish at some point I could have actually narrowed it down to what I really love – human interaction, creating relationships, and helping people achieve their goals. I didn’t have to narrow it down to being a teacher.”
Fresh out of college, Mandy landed a position at Orcas Elementary. She moved around from class to class – “climbing the ladder”. In her free time, she was an advocate in Olympia for school funding and small class sizes. When she wasn’t doing that, she was joining unions to figure out ways to advocate for her students. She became a union representative and, as a result, the go-to person for anyone having a problem.
In the classroom, though, things got a little mundane. Realizing that standard teaching practices weren’t her passion, she received permission to begin the school’s first Farm to Classroom program – a place where everything became about relationships.
“Relationships are the root of the Farm to Classroom program – working together, teamwork, appreciating reaching goals – all that,” explains Randolph.
While Mandy found herself constantly at school or involved with school business, her family was noticing the lack of balance in her life. And when she decided to initiate a conversation with her son, Jordan (a recent Orcas grad), about his own future, she was surprised with the outcome.
“I told him, ‘If you want to go to college you really need to be working on beefing up your resume.’ So here I’m doing it – [telling him to] ‘climb the ladder’. I said, ‘You should really do some volunteering and you should join that club or join this club,’” she says.
Mandy recalls her son explaining how he had balance in his life and wasn’t interested in volunteering or joining clubs he had no passion for. And then, four years ago, Mandy gave birth to her second son with partner, Zach Holley, who would catch her staying up late at night looking at real estate, even though they weren’t in the market for a new home.
“He’d be like, ‘What are you doing?’ And I would say, ‘Oh, you know, just keeping an eye out because so-and-so is looking for a house.’ I just couldn’t let it go.”
While on maternity leave, Mandy decided to take the required online real estate courses, passed the exam and started a second career as a realtor.
“I love teaching. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a teacher because I cannot let go of it. But I felt like I had to really commit and it took a huge amount of courage to actually scale back on my teaching and try a different career. I got into real estate because I was always DOING real estate and was always connecting people.”
Mandy’s same passion for bridging the gap and connecting people in the community is what this series of articles hopes to achieve. To give kids the opportunity to learn about and experiment with different career options before making expensive decisions about college. Mandy’s own son, Jordan, decided on Whatcom Community College. A decision he made because of finances as well as the uncertainty of what he wanted to do post-graduation. I commend his decision – especially with the price of college these days.
The College Board recently reported that a “moderate” cost for one-year of in-state public college (2016-2017) had a price tag averaged at $24,6101 and private college averaged $49,3201 a year (tuition, fees, books, housing and meals, personal and transportation expenses included in the cost). Mandy only recently paid off her school loans. Student debt is no joke and choosing a career can be a very important step in your life. A lot of careers, however, are set up in a way that makes it difficult to experiment or start over but Randolph suggests, “you don’t necessarily have to step into a career planning for it to be your forever. It’s important to know what you’re passionate about. As you grow in your career you might find that your strengths lead you in a different direction which is what happened to me.”
Mandy is presently enjoying the newfound balance her son once lectured her on and has this advice for kids who are trying to figure out what the future holds:
“Asking is free and you don’t have to be good at things to try them,” she says. “You should be focusing on what you really enjoy. Focus on what your strengths are. Because that’s what will lead you in the direction of where you’re going to be successful and happy.”
If you are a student looking to learn more about a certain field of study or subject, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mandy, myself, and others in community would love to try to help find someone who can give you some experience or answer any questions you may have.