June 29, 2020
|Tina Jezek stands in front of our mural of Our Lady of Lourdes that she painted at Immaculate Conception Catholic School. (NTC/Kenneth Munyer)|
Tina Jezek had a problem. The speech and drama teacher at Immaculate Conception Catholic School had six angel costumes for the Christmas pageant, but after praying about the cast, she wanted to include 15 angels in the annual program.
Making nine new angel costumes would be a daunting task. However, Jezek wanted all the angels to match. So, in the course of two days, she sewed 15 angel costumes, hemming each one to fit the height of the angel.
The multiplication of the angels exemplifies why Principal Elaine Schad called Jezek “one lean, mean, Christmas machine.”
According to Schad, Jezek brings that mindset of “We’re going to get it done. How will we do it?” to all her roles at the Denton school: art teacher, one-act play director, environmental science teacher, liturgy assistant, and special projects coordinator.
Parents at Immaculate Conception didn’t need the National Catholic Educational Association to tell them that Jezek is an extraordinary teacher.
Parents recognize the enthusiasm and knowledge she instills in the students when their youngsters clamor to plant a garden at home after working with Jezek in the school’s garden. They recognize Jezek’s excellence when their budding artists and thespians return from state competitions with awards. Her talents are obvious in the beauty and spirituality of the school’s Christmas pageant, living Stations of the Cross, and other special events.
By honoring Jezek with the 2020 Lead, Learn, Proclaim Award — one of only seven Catholic school teachers in the country to win — the NCEA designated what the parents have long known: that Jezek is an exemplar in a school full of dedicated, outstanding teachers.
Jezek is a little befuddled about the national recognition. “Art is my love. I’ve been gardening all my life. Basically, I just talk about what I know,” she said.
Jezek didn’t seek a career in education, but teaching found her. She grew up on a Denton County farm then worked as an X-ray tech for 10 years. After earning a degree in art with a focus in interior design from the University of North Texas, she did freelance art and design projects while raising four sons and volunteering in scouting and at their schools, including Immaculate Conception.
When Immaculate Conception School needed a part-time art teacher in 2010, Schad invited the 12-year volunteer to consider it. Two years later, after observing Jezek’s work ethic was “second to none,” Schad asked Jezek to consider teaching drama also.
Although Jezek’s experience tended toward set design instead of directing, she’s the type to “get the necessary tools in her toolbox to be successful,” explained Schad.
Through networking and theater camps, she learned about coaching drama. Her interior design background and sewing skills proved useful for the set and costumes. “And she does it on a shoestring budget,” the principal marveled, explaining that Jezek shops thrift stores and flea markets.
When Immaculate Conception parents Kevin and Vianey Reinhardt saw the school’s one-act play for the first time, they were moved to tears at their son’s performance. Justin was always more interested in athletics than theater, and the whole family, including Justin, was surprised to discover his hidden talent. Vianey Reinhardt recalled that Justin explained how he blossomed as an actor. “Mrs. Jezek believed in me even when I didn’t. I did not want to let her down,” he told his parents.
|Tina Jezek in the outdoor learning center at Immaculate Conception Catholic School (NTC/Kenneth Munyer)|
Three years after Jezek added drama to her repertoire, the Texas Master Gardener began teaching environmental science. The school’s service learning garden has grown year by year as she’s led the school’s older students in projects such as building a patio, creating an outdoor classroom with benches and a table, and constructing a greenhouse.
Jezek emphasizes the service aspect of the garden. Each year, the school donates as much as 400 pounds of produce from the garden to a Denton soup kitchen. The school’s innovative outdoor center has won accolades from Keep Texas Beautiful and Today’s Catholic Teacher.
The garden is a labor of love for Jezek, who can be found tending to it even when school is not in session. Working with plants allows her to reflect on the words of Jesus in her favorite Bible verse, John 15:1-2.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit.”
Jezek said, “I think about that verse every time I’m working outside. I’m always pulling weeds, tossing them aside, and leaving the good things intact. It’s always a prayer of mine, ‘Lord, don’t ever let me sever my relationship with you. Let me always be part of the vine. Don’t ever let me be cut off in any way.’”
Jezek finds the garden a good place to pray, but so is the classroom, the stage, and the hallways.
St. Paul’s message to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” comes naturally to the longtime parishioner of Immaculate Conception Church. Jezek explained, “I’m doing that all the time. Not rote prayers, but I have to stop constantly and feel the presence of God in everything I do. I just want to say, ‘Thank you’ constantly for all the blessings.”
She continued, “He’s given me the talents and I have the opportunity to do this. It’s so awesome. It’s a dream job. What I’m doing is a prayer; it’s thanksgiving to God for giving me these talents. You gave this to me; this is how I’m giving it back.”
Tina Jezek had a problem.