This is the fourth installment of Coffee Chats, where The Paly Voice gets to know staff members over a cup of coffee.
The Paly Voice sat down with English and Humanities teacher Mimi Park over an iced latte to discuss her transition from prospective lawyer to teacher, and her advice for Paly students.
This is Park’s fourth year teaching at Palo Alto High School. She teaches English 9 and English 9A, as well as Humanities. While Park loves teaching high school English, teaching was not her first passion.
“I graduated from law school, but when I left law school I decided I really didn’t want to be a lawyer,” Park said. “I really loved English, which was my major, but when I spoke with my professors a few years later and said ‘I’m thinking about becoming a professor,’ they were like ‘Don’t do it! If you want to teach, go to public school, because there are no jobs in the humanities Ph.D. market.’”
Park took her professor’s advice and started looking at programs that would give her a teaching credential. She decided she wanted to move to California and ended up going to Stanford University’s teacher education program.
“When I started looking for jobs there was an opening here at Paly. It was part time and I was like, ‘I can’t do that because I have to pay rent,'” Park said. “Incredibly fortuitously, a teacher soon after took a leave for a year and there were enough classes open that I could get nearly a full-time position. I was hired at Paly and have been here for the past four years.”
Park explains that one of the major differences between being a lawyer and teaching high schoolers is who you are working for.
“I was thinking of doing corporate law and my clients would have been gigantic corporations,” Park said. “I was so used to thinking about adults as my clients, and as a teacher, I had to readjust my thinking and start being more aware of the different issues surrounding public education, from the legal issues to policy to even the social-emotional aspects of the students.”
Despite the difficult transition from lawyer to high school teacher, Park says that being open to changing careers taught her how to relate to Paly students.
“I would say my biggest piece of advice is don’t pigeonhole yourself; be open to changing your path or looking for new opportunities, and don’t be afraid to embrace them because it is really easy to get into the mindset of ‘this is what I’m going to do and this is what I’m going to be,’” Park said.
Park recalls having spent all of her high school and college years preparing for pre-law. However, when she achieved her goal, she realized that being a lawyer just wasn’t for her.
“I planned to be a lawyer since 8th grade when people told me I talk too much and therefore I should be a lawyer,” Park said. “It was the scariest and biggest decision I’ve probably made in my life so far, to give up three years of education and a lot of money and not have a plan,” Park said. “I had a year where I had to think about what I wanted to do. It’s terrifying, but I think that being really open to that is a super important thing.”
According to Park switching to teaching was the best decision she’s ever made.
“I love teaching, and I’m fortunate to be in a career when I’m actually excited about coming to work and happy about the work I do, versus dreading the day ahead,” Park said.