Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: Angela Malone (MD '15)

March 2, 2016

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What does science teacher Angela Malone (MD '15) love most about being an educator? It's not about the content: She treasures the opportunity to build her students' confidence and shape the adults they'll become. She received her Milken Educator Award at Oxon Hill Middle School in Fort Washington on February 17, 2016. 

Milken Family Foundation: How did you end up in education?

Angela Malone: I've spoken a lot about my mom's influence on my decision to be an educator. As a young girl, I would help my mom organize her papers at school and at home. Once, I even had an unfortunate interaction with a stapler. (My palm still has a tiny scar.) I lined up all my dolls and read to them and gave them homework and made sure they followed the rules of the classroom.

Yet, as I got older, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. So many teachers told me that I was "too smart" to be a teacher. But my mom was intelligent. And she loved her job. And I saw student after student come up to her long after they had been in her classroom and with a beaming smile talk about how much they had learned in her classroom. I was always in awe of that.

In college I was a biology major, but I floundered. It was never the right fit. I worked in a hospital my senior year in college and realized that I didn't want to be a doctor. So after graduation, I subbed for a while and then the high school in the town where I grew up had an emergency opening for a math teacher. So I started teaching. Honestly, at the time it just happened. I didn't really have a big epiphany…it just was very fluid and natural. It was only then that I began to take education classes to acquire my certification and it just felt right. The pieces had fallen into place. I was home.

MFF: What was your first job?

Angela: My dad has a part-time lawn mowing business in the small town where I grew up. He makes extra money for our family and he also has a servant's heart so he helps people around town who need it. I was riding a lawn mower from about the fourth grade. I got paid $5 an hour. I treasure those times now — the memories are so clear and overwhelmingly precious to me. The experience taught me about hard work (his, not mine — riding the lawn mower was pretty easy) and it also gave me time to spend with such an amazing man and learn from him that no matter what you are doing, you should do it to your highest possible standard and take pride in that effort and that work.

MFF: You were an opera singer before becoming an educator. What did your classical music training bring to the way you approach the classroom? And what’s your dream role?

Angela: I love to sing. A friend and I sang all afternoon one time when I was living in London. We sang our conversations at the bus stop, on the bus, in the shop — it was addictive. I would very much like to live in the world where you can burst into song and dance at any given time. I mean, who wouldn't? I believe my training taught me that practice not only makes it sound better; even more, it increases your confidence and ability to operate more flexibly in a new and/or not ideal situation. If you are prepared then you will be able to give your absolute best, no matter what other things happen that might be out of your control. And with middle school, a touch of theatrical flair never hurts. My dream operatic role is Floria Tosca. I am a spinto soprano, so that role is ideal for my voice. I basically feel like I'm glowing every time I sing "Vissi d’Arte" [an aria from Tosca by Giacomo Puccini]. 

MFF: Who was your most memorable teacher?

Angela: Mrs. Pat Johnson. She was my high school English teacher. She had been teaching at Waskom High School ever since my dad had been in school and she had developed quite a reputation for being a contradiction of no-nonsense and fanciful ideas. She is amazing. She didn't accept less than your best but she was also encouraging and imaginative. There were fairies in the aisles and a whole fairy village behind the chalkboard. She had a pet cobra named Sampson in her car that would sit on her shoulder while she drove (you had to have the safari hat on if you went out to her car for anything so that Sampson would know she had sent you and you’d be safe).

One day Mrs. Johnson was absent. She had left some work for us but we didn't really want to do it. Every day we wrote in our journals. So this day we collaborated and created a story for our journals about how we were about to start doing the work but we noticed smoke coming out from the edges of the chalkboard and we knew the fairy village was in trouble so we called the fire department and they had to bring in all their equipment so they could put out the fire and save the day. We coordinated all of our stories so that our details matched and these tales were so elaborate that we wrote the entire period. The next day, instead of being angry with us, she gave us feedback about our writing and kept the story going by telling us that the fairies had told her how thankful they were for our help.

Mrs. Johnson recognized and even celebrated that the most powerful gift she could give us was to love to read and write — to spend time creating. She challenged us with literature we would never have checked out of the library on our own, but so much of which we later realized we loved. She walked up and down the aisles chanting Edgar Allan Poe's "The Bells" and wrote a zany, fantastic musical, Oklahamlet (yes, it was the story of Hamlet to the music of Oklahoma!) that we loved staging, rehearsing and performing. We still sing it to this day. No matter how many years she had been teaching, she was always learning new things and taking new risks. That is the teacher I want to be.

MFF: Tell us about your first class.

Angela: I came into the classroom in January — I was teaching two high school algebra classes. My most memorable moment from that year is the day a student told another student, in rather colorful language (using a phrase I had never heard before), to be quiet because she was trying to learn. The reason for the comment was admirable, but the delivery....

I think the hardest thing about that first semester and into the next year when I taught full-time was figuring out how to handle outbursts and/or students who just wouldn't do any work. I felt absolutely comfortable interacting with students who were motivated to learn and I was confident in the content, but reluctant learners…yeah, I was on a real learning curve. I don't think anything really took me by surprise. I may have blocked it out, but I don’t think so. I had been around teachers and classrooms my whole life so I had a pretty good idea of what it was going to be like.

MFF: A student is thinking about a career in education. What do you say?

Angela: Teaching is the ultimate profession. You get to do a little bit of everything — you are a teacher, parent, coach, lawyer, diplomat, performer, counselor, PR professional, nurse, event planner.…I could go on. Every single day in education is exciting and different. And even beyond that, every year is a totally fresh slate. I LOVE that! But none of that is even the best part. As an educator, you have the unique opportunity to build young people up and lay part of the foundation for the adults they will become. Teaching the content is just a small part of what I get to do. I hope to inspire students to seek out understanding in our world and make a difference when they see a need.

MFF: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?

Angela: It energized the entire building. I feel like none of them had ever seen a teacher celebrated in such a grand way. To be honest, I had never seen such an event in person myself! I hope they found it inspirational. They are still coming up to me on a daily basis with ear-to-ear grins saying, "Wow, Mrs. Malone! That was amazing!" I think they mostly view teachers as a necessary element of school but don't consider how passionate we are about education and that we are always striving to be the best possible teacher we can be. I think the presentation began to open their eyes to what it means to be an educator.

MFF: What's your favorite time of the school day?

Angela: The morning. The day is full of possibilities and everything feels fresh. I like to only bring the good things from yesterday into the new day. I love seeing my kids' faces as they come down the hall and enjoy getting to welcome them with, "Good morning!" In those moments, I feel so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to do what I do.

MFF: If someone gave you a million dollars to use in your school, what would you do with it?

Angela: I would remodel the library and make it more welcoming and comfortable. I heard somebody say that you can tell the health of the school from the activity in the library, and unfortunately I feel like this is an area that our students don't get an opportunity to use as they should. I would expand the book selection and make sure there was money for a full-time librarian. I would update the technology and the science labs. I would hire lab techs so that science teachers would be able to carry out labs more efficiently. I would expand the budget for fieldwork so students could be learning more outside the building. We would be going to arts performances and have teaching artists come in and work with the students on a regular basis. Am I out of money yet?

MFF: When you retire, what do you want your former students and colleagues to say about you?

Angela: I really hope they would say that my passion for teaching and learning inspired them to learn and in turn to teach others. I want them to say that they know that I loved them and challenged them to think about science and the world from a variety of perspectives. I would love to hear that I inspired them to take action when they saw a need and make a difference in the world.

MFF: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?

Angela: I would love to do an opera or a musical from time to time (hopefully I'll be able to combine this with teaching again at some point) but as far as a different full-time career, I'd probably be a tour guide. I love to travel and teach people about the beautiful and interesting places in our world. There are so many stories to tell. Huh. I just realized that's still a form of education. I suppose it's just meant to be.

MFF: Finish this sentence: "I know I'm succeeding as an educator when..."

Angela: "…students are asking questions that demonstrate an awareness and curiosity of the world around them and seeking answers on their own — especially after the bell rings."

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