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Off the Ship and Into the Classroom 

With his distinguished 20-year career in the U.S. Navy coming to a close, John Pienkowski knew he was ready for a monumental change. It was the leadership experience he gained as a commanding officer in the Navy and as a Scoutmaster with his sons’ Boy Scout troop that helped him launch his teaching journey.  

“I really enjoyed working with young boys and helping to mold them, and I also knew I didn’t want to work a regular desk job after leaving the Navy. What better thing to do than go into teaching?” He commented.

From an early age, Pienkowski’s passion lay in science, and he soon discovered that middle school science teachers were in especially high demand in Virginia. Then, he heard about Regent’s Career Switcher program through a friend who was enrolled in another Regent program and was quick to register in the fall of 2015 and take full advantage of Regent’s Military Assistance Center.  

The Career Switcher program offered him the hands-on experience that allowed him to transition successfully from ship to classroom and get his teaching certification while also providing the strong Christian foundation he craved.  

Pienkowski noted the servant leadership inculcated throughout the program as being especially pivotal to his professional development.  

John Pienkowski & Wife

“To be a good leader, you also have to be a good follower; you also have to be a servant to the people who you’re training and leading. I felt like Regent really offered that, through the coursework, the discussions, and the professors. The passion for servant leadership really lined up with what I already had and what I needed,” he stated.  

Pienkowski also felt the program’s emphasis on mentorship really set him up for success.  

“I really appreciate everything Dr. Mervyn Wighting in particular has done for me and continues to do for me. He’s helped me even after I left Regent,” he noted. 

While in the program, Pienkowski worked as a substitute teacher at local middle and high schools, which helped him get his feet wet and acclimate to the classroom.  

Soon after, he landed a full-time teaching job with Virginia Beach City Public Schools and acquired his teaching license, thus beginning his career at Brandon Middle School. He started out his first few years teaching 7th and 8th grade science before transitioning into the role of technology education teacher after a vacancy opened.  

In his second year of teaching, Pienkowski won the 2018 National Outstanding New Educator of the Year Award, a prestigious title given to outstanding educators in their first few years of teaching. He was one of just a few teachers selected to travel to Las Vegas to receive the award, and he credits Dr. Wighting for helping nominate him. The award came as a welcome surprise.  

“I remember they wanted to do a video and interview me, and then it hit me that this is for real. This is serious. I later found out I was among the finalists. It worked out really well,” he recalled. 

But perhaps his proudest moment was winning his school’s Teacher of the Year Award just five years into his teaching career at Brandon.  

“The fact that my peers and the administrators recognized the amount of work that I was doing not only in the science class but in the school in general blew me away. That was super rewarding,” he said. 

As a technology education teacher, he gets to focus on a variety of topics throughout the year, from 3-D printing to engineering design and beyond, and he enjoys the hands-on aspect of the job and the greater flexibility it offers.  

“It’s the perfect fit for me,” he said, adding, “The [technology education] program is very flexible, such that I can tailor it to the grade and change it year to year, and I’m able to coordinate with other teachers and schools to find out what’s working.”  

Pienkowski is now in his third year in the role, and he particularly enjoys getting to teach all three grade levels and see some of the same students as they grow and mature.  

“It’s really cool. This is the third year now that I’ve seen some of the same students three years in a row,” he said, adding that it’s a “recurring reward” to see his students progress each year and get excited about taking his class again.  

Now that he has eight total years of classroom experience under his belt and has mentored student teachers from other programs, Pienkowski has remained confident that Regent’s unique approach to the Career Switcher program is one of the best in the area, especially in terms of support. 

“I’ve spoken to other colleagues who graduated from Regent, and we all agree that Regent has a fantastic program. We have nothing but great things to say about it, and we really felt it prepared us for the classroom. I recommend that anyone thinking about career switching into education choose Regent,” he stated. 

While teaching comes with its fair share of challenges and isn’t for everyone, for Pienkowski, having a mentor makes all the difference.  

“If you’re a new teacher, make sure you stay in contact with a mentor. Use your mentor, whether it’s someone at Regent or someone in your school. It helps to have that support. I know it’s hard now, but remember, it’ll get better; as you go, you’ll get a little smarter and a little more experienced. Just keep moving forward and stay in touch with your mentor,” he advised.  

His advice to potential career switchers or young people considering going into teaching is as follows:  

“You have to enjoy being around and working with kids. You have to be flexible and have a personality that matches the age range you’re teaching. For me, that’s middle school. You have to be able to roll with the punches. The rewards are fantastic, and they’ll make your heart swell, but there are other days when it can be hard. You have to do a lot of self-evaluation. The more relationships you can build, the more successful your job will be. It all stems from servant leadership. You have to be willing to serve every day.”  

John Pienkowsk & Sons

Pienkowski also helps run Brandon’s after-school robotics club. Outside of the classroom, he likes spending his time with his family, keeping active, working on creative projects, and constructing models similar to the ones his own students get to do during the school year.  

Watch local news channel Wavy 10’s coverage of Regent’s Career Switcher program and find out how John Pienkowski prepared for his calling to teach. 

Earn an accelerated teaching license and fulfill your calling in the classroom, just like Mr. Pienkowski is doing! Visit for more information on Regent’s Career Switcher program and register to get your certification.

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