Betsy Lazo and the Business of Teaching
Elizabeth “Betsy” Lazo always knew she wanted to be a teacher. It was kind of the family business. Her father taught at W.F. West and Yelm high schools, and her mother taught at the middle school before moving to Centralia High School. Lazo’s twin sister also teaches kindergarten. For Lazo, the question wasn’t what she wanted to do, but what she wanted to teach.
“It was a hard decision,” she said.
Lazo completed two years of Running Start in high school, graduating with her associate degree just one day before earning her high school diploma from W.F. West. She attended Central Washington University, where she majored in business and marketing education. “I just jumped into it,” she said.
She graduated with her bachelor’s degree at age 20 and earned her master’s in business administration at age 22. By the time most people are just starting their job search, Lazo was already a master’s-level teacher in charge of her own high school classroom. She redefines the term “go-getter.”
After 10 years teaching at the high school level, Lazo began teaching business, marketing and computer classes at Centralia College in the fall of 2016. It was the perfect fit for her family life and offered an exciting new challenge. “I like the practicality of it,” she said. “Students are actually going to use what I’m teaching.”
Lazo imparts practical wisdom by weaving real-world lessons into her curriculum. For example, she explained to her her 8-year-old son that toothpaste is toothpaste and the use of Avengers branding is a marketing strategy. “He’s probably one of few 8-year-olds that could tell you about marketing,” she said.
These real-world scenarios are great educational opportunities. “I teach marketing students to look at their families,” Lazo said. “What does it look like for you to purchase items? What catches your attention? What makes you want to buy things? So, when you’re looking for a need – is it a psychological need or is it just a need? We’re all consumers and most students aspire to be entrepreneurs or business owners.”
Her favorite part of the job is seeing the lessons click with her students. “I like interacting with people and helping them learn,” she said. “You don’t get that experience anywhere else.”
The most difficult part? Helping students who aren’t yet engaged in the learning process. “Everyone has a different purpose for being there,” she said. “A good fraction wants to be there and are excited to learn, while others have to be there because it’s a class they have to take.”
Oftentimes, students arrive with baggage they need to work through in the classroom. Older students may struggle to learn from someone they perceive as being so young. Others are retraining for a different profession after being in the same career for decades. “For some, it’s facing a computer, which is their biggest enemy,” Lazo said. “I’ve learned that everyone has different experiences they’re bringing to the classroom. With 20-something students ranging from 16- to 70-years-old with different responsibilities and experience, everyone is bringing their own background.”
Lazo helps these students by reconnecting them with the reason they’re there in the first place. “Whether they wanted to come here or not, I ask, ‘Why are you here? What brought you here and where do you want to go?’” she said.
This strategy pays off and Lazo enjoys seeing the accomplishments that result. “It’s the little victories,” she said. “For some, it was that their first quarter was really terrible but now they get it. Victories don’t look the same for everybody.”
Watching her first students graduate was her proudest moment thus far. “I saw them when they started,” she said, “so seeing them at graduation and seeing some get hired was really exciting.”
To prepare students for life after college, Lazo works to impart more than business skills. “It’s overarching in any class I teach,” she said. “I want them to really learn about themselves, learn about their strengths and weaknesses, and become more reflective in themselves and the material – to be a good employee, citizen, boss, and team member.”
Lazo embodies these qualities herself. Centralia College appreciates her work, awarding her tenure in April. “I’m thankful for the process and being able to learn so much in the first three years,” Lazo said. “I’m grateful for the committee that guides you through the tenure process. They’ve been cheerleaders and offered support. It’s nice to have that learning experience. I’m part of this community officially. I’ve joined the ranks.”
When she’s not teaching, Lazo likes spending time with her husband, Isaac; son, Hunter; and their two Labrador retrievers, Ember and Woodford. “We love going on road trips, camping and spending time as a family,” she said.
A natural high-achiever, Lazo already has her sights set on accomplishing her next set of goals – both personally and professionally. “One is to stay relevant,” she said, “to continually reflect on my own practice to meet the needs of my students. I’m constantly looking at where I came from and where I want to go. Nobody’s going to make things happen for you but you.”