Rachael Wentz has been at the front of a classroom for almost six decades.
This month, that all changes.
On May 10, the born-and-raised Carroll countian held her last class at Carroll Community College, where she’s taught as an adjunct French instructor for 19 years. On May 15 and 16, she gave her last exams. Wentz spent 30 years teaching foreign language at the former Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College.
It all started at Westminster High School, where Wentz began her career, before rising through the ranks over 38 years as a French teacher and ending as the department chair.
“I always played teacher as a child. I had to be the teacher. I was never anything else but I had to be the bossy one,” Wentz said.
Wentz, who spent most of her life in an institution of learning, was the first in her immediate family to go to college. Before she’d even graduated from Western Maryland College she signed a contract at Westminster High, and started teaching French in the fall of 1962.
During her time in CCPS, Wentz said she took students and parents on trips to France, something she said was a wonderful learning experience for them.
At that time, French was the most important language at the school, she said. There was just one Latin class, and it took a few years before a Spanish class came in.
“How things have changed,” she added.
The popularity of certain languages isn’t the only thing that’s changed over the years.
Every year is different, Wentz said. Technology has changed things exponentially.
But while she’s worked to adapt to the changes over more than a half-century of education, some things are always the same.
Wentz said people always ask her why she prepares so much for a class, after all these years. But it’s because even after all these years, she cares just as much.
“You’re always a little bit nervous on that first day because you want things to go right,” Wentz said.
After nearly 60 years, her big belief in teaching remains the same — if you’re not enthusiastic, the students won’t be.
“You must love the job,” she said.
And you must show compassion and understanding for the students. There needs to be mutual respect, she said.
“These young people are growing up in different situations than I did,” Wentz added.
Wentz went on to get a master’s degree from Wake Forest University, and from there, took on a role at Western Maryland College as an adjunct.
“I thought, well, I could try this,” she said. “I had language students who were coming to learn how to teach in French and Spanish and even German.”
Some of those people she taught were educators she worked with at Carroll County Public Schools.
CCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Steven Johnson was one of those students. Johnson said he first met Wentz when he was a junior in college at Western Maryland. He took her class that year, and the following year was a student teacher for her at Westminster High School.
Wentz was just a “phenomenal teacher,”Johnson said, adding that he still calls her to thank her on every National Teacher Day because she made him who he is as an educator.
“She truly had an impact on my career,” he said. “I can’t say enough good stuff about the kind of teacher she was.”
One thing that really made her different, he said, was the fact that she’s evolved over all of these years. That’s a lesson Johnson said he took from her — Wentz is someone who always embraced change, he said.
And she always enjoyed what she did.
“She had fun. That was the neatest part about her,” Johnson said, later adding, “She’s touched countless people.”
In 1999, Wentz was one year away from retiring from Westminster High School and CCPS. She got a phone call asking for her to come to be an adjunct at Carroll Community College, and originally said no because she thought she’d be too busy. But she changed her mind.
“I thought, 'well, you know, this might be a very smart move because I’m not going to be satisfied just … sitting around,” she said, adding that by the end, she’ll have spent 19 years there.
It’s been an “outstanding” opportunity, Wentz said.
It wasn’t always easy though.
While in school, Wentz had a counselor who told her to teach elementary school, and said she didn’t have “the backbone for high school.” Wentz was also diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis early in her career.
“I’ve suffered with this stuff for about 50 years,” she said, adding that she has tried to stay active, and is grateful she’s been able to meet her goals.
She even had a doctor tell her she could go on disability. But Wentz knew she was meant to be in the classroom.
“I didn’t go to college and a grad school to be on disability. I want to be a teacher,” she told the doctor.
After all of the years educating the youth in Carroll, Wentz plans to continue to give back to the community with her extra time.
Wentz has been a hospital volunteer for at least 15 years. In the summers, she’s worked for tour bus companies and has gone up into areas like Quebec and Montreal. She currently works for a company called Eyre, and is scheduled to head to Niagara Falls this June, she said.
“It’s like a teaching job,” she said.
Wentz also wants to be a tutor, though said she’s looking to take a year or so off to take some time for herself.
But while she’s looking forward to retirement, Wentz knows she’s going to miss the work she’s done for so many years.
“I’m going to feel older,” she said. “The students keep you young. You learn new ideas from them. I will definitely miss that.”
Editors note: This article has been updated to correct Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Steven Johnson’s title.