The best of two worlds

Middle division art teacher is thriving as educator and illustrator.

When Lauren Zajdel was in college, she had her mind set on becoming an illustrator. But when she neared her BFA degree from the Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio, the Great Recession was hitting the U.S. economy and she thought she needed a fallback plan since jobs for illustrators were becoming scarce. Turns out her plan B was what led her to NDPMA this fall to teach art in the school’s middle division.

“When I was at CCAD, the school began offering the opportunity to receive a teaching license through another nearby school, Notre Dame College in South Euclid,” said Zajdel, who grew up in Shelby Township, Mich. “We were the guinea pigs for the program, and the biggest incentive for those of us who attended was the free tuition.”

Zajdel said the program itself did not last and she was one of only three who actually completed it with a teaching degree. 

“My major at CCAD was illustration with a minor in art history,” she said. “But I figured that adding a teaching license couldn't hurt my chances of landing a job once I graduated. I wanted to have as many possibilities for myself as possible when looking for a job.”

Teaching in Ohio

Zajdel’s job at Notre Dame wasn’t her first teaching job, however, as she taught pre-K through 5th grade students at an elementary school in Marion, Ohio, for seven years. “It was a great experience for my first teaching position,” she said. “I worked with a dedicated staff who supported my program and the community was supportive as well.”

When Zajdel applied for the art teaching job at NDPMA, she was not completely unaware of the school and its academic standing. 

“My brother Adam had attended and graduated from Notre Dame Prep in 2002, so I was very familiar with how the school ran and how it consistently lived up to its reputation,” she said. “I think getting the opportunity to teach here is everything an educator could wish for.” 

For middle-division principal Brandon Jezdimir, hiring Zajdel was another wish come true.

“Lauren has confirmed all the reasons why we hired her at ND Marist Academy in the first place,” Jezdimir said. She has formed trusting relationships with her students; she brings her art classes to life, and her confidence and passion in teaching is evident in her students’ work. Outside of the classroom, Lauren is a team player and is always looking for ways to integrate the arts into other subject areas. Lauren is an ideal Marist educator.”

Overseeing and creating

Overseeing middle school students creating art five days a week, while seemingly all-consuming, still gives Zajdel time for pursuing what she says is an “eclectic experience” in creating art herself.

“For well over the past decade, I have freelanced in mural work, face painting, caricatures and painting commissions,” she said. “I have also built life-sized monsters for haunted houses and for movies. When it comes to my freelance commission work, it can vary wildly depending on what the client requires. Mostly, I am hired to make a custom painting in either watercolor, oil paints or acrylics.”

She said every now and then she gets to dabble with actually building something or creating decor for a client. 

“In addition, during the past few years, I’ve started to venture into putting my art into shows, galleries and local businesses. I feel very blessed to be able to utilize both of my degrees to do what I am most passionate about every day. 

“I feel really fortunate to be able to teach the middle division at NDPMA,” she said. “Every day it brings on new challenges that I welcome. Plus, now I get to teach the lessons that I wasn't able to do with the younger grade levels in Marion. And I feel that my students are just as excited as I am. Already, we have completed four projects amongst the grade levels and I love the momentum of my students’ engagement. They are incredibly talented and I can't emphasize that enough.” 

Zajdel is a bit more circumspect when it comes to identifying the most important thing about her job at Notre Dame.

Born in South Korea

“It’s hard for me to boil it down to just one thing,” she said. “For me personally, I have a true passion for what I do, plus a lot of experience that I can share in my classroom. But overall, I think the most successful educators love working with people and being part of a group setting such as a classroom. Being flexible, patient, humble, open-minded, and having a ‘win-win’ attitude also are important attributes.

“We as educators get to witness those incredible, energetic moments when the students are engaged, feeling confident and going further than the lessons call for,” she said. “It never gets old for us. I want the young people around me to succeed and I truly feel that success. So I support my students in the best way I know how — by being present and totally involved and immersed!” 

When she can pull herself away from Notre Dame, besides her art and mural business, Zajdel still finds time to spend with her family, which includes her mom and dad, two older brothers, Adam and Phillip, and Erica, a younger sister. She says she loves her “incredible” family dearly and also is very proud to say that she was adopted from South Korea when she was only six-months old.

“I was born in Seoul and adopted right before Christmas by my family, which at the time included my two older brothers and my mom and dad,” she said. “People tend to have a lot of questions about my adoption, but sometimes they’re afraid to bring it up. Since I have nothing but love for my family and how I got here, I always say ‘please don't hesitate to ask!’ I even found out that some of my students are adopted and I enjoy being able to relate to them and others about such an exciting aspect of life.” 

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at