MA Student Cindy Malone on Teaching, Writing, and Self-Care

Kyle, Marty, Cindy, Samantha and Tyler in the front

Cindy Malone, an MA student with a specialization in teaching, recently agreed to a short interview, in which she reflects on her love of teaching, her goals after the MA program, and the importance of self-care and her family to her success. 

Please tell us a bit about yourself!  

I began teaching in 2008 when my two kids were old enough to go to daycare. I began teaching in Dallas in a Title One school (low income) and then in 2010 moved to Mansfield, Texas where I am now. I can teach all levels, 9-12, but I have not ever taught Freshman. My husband teaches math at the same high school where I teach English.

My husband and I just celebrated our 17th anniversary. I have a stepson, Tyler, who plays wheelchair basketball at MIZZOU. I have a son Kyle who is 15 and is a sophomore at our high school. My daughter is 13 and in the 8th grade. Her name is Samantha.

I am currently enrolled in the Master’s program in English with a specialization in teaching. I spent a long time searching for a program and I could not find one that was English focused more than education focused. Don’t get me wrong, I love my craft and I love talking and learning about teaching, but I also love reading and writing and literature. Most people in my position who return for their graduate degree are going into administration. Honestly, I like kids way more than adults so I don’t want to be a principal. I would much rather spend my time with students than teachers.

My goal is ultimately to become a Composition I and Literature I teacher at a junior college. I loved my time at Tarrant County College. I love the smaller classes and non-traditional students.

I am also a freelance writer although I have only worked for local magazines as of yet. I am also working on a book (aren’t we all?) as well as some articles for a state level magazine, just for the experience.

What do you love most about teaching? What inspires you as an educator?

I have always said that if you love small children you teach elementary. If you love the subject, you teach high school. I did not start out excited to work with teenagers. I started out excited to teach literature and writing. I truly love it. I get excited talking about. I am passionate about relating literature to real-world examples and watching the kids light up when they see a connection between a text they assumed they would hate and something they care about today. I grew to love high schoolers. Maybe it is because I can be a little more relaxed with them. I can talk about themes that are a little more adult. Maybe it is because I still think I am in my 20s (even though my body screams 41 every morning when my alarm goes off).

As an educator, I am not actually inspired by other educators. Don’t get me wrong, I know several great teachers. And I love learning from them. But I am inspired by tiny moments. That moment you hear a kid tell a friend “It’s hard but I learned a lot in her class.” or “Thanks Ms. Malone. I got into that college you helped me write the essay for.” or “You were my favorite teacher even though I failed or even though it wasn’t my best grade.” Or my personal favorite, “You were right! I actually made an A in comp I because of all you taught me.” I love when you watch a student read and his eyes get really big at exactly the right part and you know he is fully comprehending the book and just got to the “good part.” I love the word “ooohhhhhhhh” when a student gets something for the first time. Those are my inspirations.

As a veteran secondary-ed teacher, how do you approach teaching students at different levels, and with different goals both academically and professionally?

This is definitely the hardest part of my job. I look out at a class of 30 where 5 are sped, 3 are ESL, 5 are just behind because of no home environment that promotes reading and writing, 10 are relatively on level and 7 are GT. I want to teach a really engaging lesson but how do I engage them all? And if I had 3 class periods to teach the same lesson I could teach it 10 different ways until everyone got it. What I normally do is if I teach one lesson with movement and gallery walks and games and whatnot, the next lesson may be notes or visual. Then perhaps group work before they write on their own. I meet one on one with my students at least once per 6 weeks to check in on their progress and how they are progressing and what they need.

As far as professionally, I do things a bit different. For my seniors, for the beginning of the year through a previously identified testing day (October 16th this year) when they take the SAT, I work on SAT prep. Most of them have taken it before but we are working on improvement. Then we work through a novel and work on the types of things they will be asked to do in college. We look at short stories and articles and poetry that go with it and analyze themes, take notes, and research relevant topics. This year we will do Frankenstein. We will look at scientific issues, the concept of the other, and mental illness. I want them to find things for themselves.

I also want to work on how they interact with groups. I realized in this program how much we really do work in groups and that is a skill not everyone, including myself, has. Then, the last grading period, I am separating them into groups based on their plans. Yes, I know they can change, but it’s the best we have right now. With my kids going into a vocation like welding, carpentry, landscaping, building, painting, electrician, plumbing etc, we are going to work on contracts and bids and stuff like that. We have a large vocational school in Mansfield so several of our students graduate with certificates in a vocation. My kids going straight into the workforce will work on cover letters, resumes and interview skills. Finally, my kids going into college will look at the basic writing types they will experience in Comp 1 and get a head start on what that will look like.

With all you have going on—teaching, being a student, wife, mother, and fighting cancer—how do you practice self-care and keep from “burning out”?

I am not sure I have stopped from burning out. Honestly. I feel like I burn out and then regroup. Sometimes I do not think I will be able to finish this program. Sometimes I am working on homework at 11pm on a work night because it is the first moment I had to sit down. But I push through. There have been times that literally the only thing keeping me going is that I am frugal and hate the idea of losing the money. But hey—whatever works. Plus, sometimes I get engrossed in a text or assignment and I catch myself having fun. Smiling even. I really love to learn.

This may be too honest, but being a wife is one of the hardest things to do while working, mothering and being a student. As a child (you know, until 23 or so) I thought marriage was easy. I mean, I was getting a partner to help with everything I was previously doing alone. Nope. Marriage is a job. It is work. Last year, after a few hard years where we felt like we were both so busy with “life” that we put each other and our relationship on the back burner, he and I did a book study. We met three times a week during lunch and worked through “The Five Love Languages.” Sometimes we didn’t even make it through a page. We took notes, had frank discussions. A few arguments but we were learning how to end them without hurting one another. It was a definite positive change. We are looking are doing another one next summer.

Being a mom to teenagers is way harder than toddlers. Whoever said 3 year olds are the worst did not have two hormonal, cranky, moody, weird and smelly teenagers at once. I taxi them around, come home, and stay in my room. I mean, way more than I should. We eat together every night and we chat and then if it is a weekend, and we can agree, we might watch something together, but then, they call their friends and I head back into my cave of safety where I avoid the zombie teenage apocalypse.

Fighting cancer daily sucks. In fact, the name of the book I am working on is called “Cancer Sucks.” It is draining because even on days when I am not having a treatment or a test, I have a million little reminders that bring me down. Luckily, I have not needed surgery or radiation in a few years, but next week I head back to MD Anderson in Houston for a follow up test for an abnormal result from last time. It is so stressful. I wish I could stop thinking about it for a whole day but I cannot. It weighs on me. However, I will have a good test result and get to stop medication for a little bit and I remember that my life is pretty good. I have a long and good marriage. Two healthy, although annoying, kids. I have a good job that I actually like. I learn every day so I don’t get bored. I have great friends, not many, but great. It is a life worth fighting for.