June 06, 2011
Growing up, Denise Ortiz-Wasilewski never thought much of the
"Honestly, I didn't think highly of it at all," she
recalled. "As a career, it seemed like a difficult, arduous and
But after she took an elective Education class with Charisse Willis
’89SVC, ’91GEd, ’95PD, Associate Dean and Professor in St. John's
The School of Education, Ortiz-Wasilewsi's perspective quickly
"That class completely altered my view on teaching," she noted. "It
gave me a much deeper respect for the profession, shining a light
on what educators really do. Trust me: it's not just a lot of
grading papers and hosting parent-teacher conferences! There's
community work, helping kids outside the classroom and getting to
know them on a personal level."
After earning both an undergraduate and graduate degree from St.
John's, Ortiz-Wasilewski accepted a position teaching Spanish at
Leon M. Goldstein High School in Manhattan Beach and has been there
for six years. She credits that first elective course with Dean
Willis as what shaped her career path.
"I realized the community aspect of teaching, which is why I also
work as a counselor," she said. "Now I'm able to have two
relationships with my students: a group setting with 20 kids at a
time, and through a personal, one-on-one dynamic. It's so rewarding
to make a difference in these students' lives."
As a Spanish teacher, Ortiz-Wasilewski hopes to strengthen her
class's appreciation of foreign cultures. She even takes some of
her students abroad every year to visit a variety of global
destinations, including England, Ireland, France, Greece, Africa
teach a Spanish class, but I want my students to understand the
importance and relevance of all foreign cultures," she said. "So
for 10 to 15 days, I take my class on a trip that shows them a
broad mix of cultures. It's a really beautiful experience. I always
wanted an experience like that myself as a student."
Meanwhile, Ortiz-Wasilewski hopes to teach a different type of
acceptance here at home: a greater approval of mental-health
"My perspective on teaching changed drastically after I went to
college," she said. "Similarly, I'd like to help my own community
change its perspective on the profession, especially in regards to
counseling. There's still a stigma around that whole topic, so one
of my ambitions is to change that and get the youth to understand
that it's okay to come and talk, to discuss their problems and to
have an open forum to express themselves. We need to realize that
the times have changed."
Ortiz-Wasilewski is currently pursuing a second master's degree in
bilingual counseling at Long Island University and hopes to
continue serving the community throughout her career.
"I didn't expect to become a teacher when I came to St. John's, but
I'm glad I did," she noted. "And with counseling, I'm really making
a difference. Education was an unexpected career, but it's
something I'm so grateful to have discovered."