When they hit the road together for Florida last summer, Perry Elementary School teachers Barbara Malinger and Sally Spiro found themselves focused as much on books as the beach.
Their mutual passion for teaching literacy to children made for a memorable cross-country trip.
“Barb and I would insist on stopping at every dollar store and Cracker Barrel gift shop that we saw to look for toys, games, novelties, or whatever treasures we thought might enhance the ‘learning to read’ experience,” Spiro said. “And our husbands had a good time making fun of some of our choices.”
Those choices tend to be a big hit with Malinger’s students. From so-called “monster punctuation marks” to “rainbow thinking brains” and “glitter prediction balls,” she said her use of fun, hands-on manipulatives helps make her literacy strategies come alive.
Equally important to effective strategies is the ability to always keep in mind the unique cultural, social, emotional, and learning backgrounds of each and every child, she said.
This is especially true for the academically and socioeconomically diverse students at Malinger’s school.
- Click here to see a photo album of Malinter working recently with a group of Perry students.
“We need to see the whole person behind the numbers and data,” Malinger said. “Many of the students I work with come to me feeling that they can’t read, or because they have struggled so long they just don’t want to read. It’s my job to discover each student’s strengths, capabilities, and interests. Then we take small steps together to show them that they can succeed, and that their thinking is important.”
Malinger’s exceptional ability to guide students on the path to literacy has earned her the Illinois Reading Educator of the Year Award.
The 15-year veteran Perry Elementary teacher will be recognized during a special ceremony on March 15 at the Illinois Reading Council’s conference in Springfield.
She will also be honored by the D300 School Board this Monday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 p.m. during the Board Meeting at Westfield Community School (2100 Sleepy Hollow Road, Algonquin).
She has been as influential to teachers as students.
Craig Zieleniewski, who worked with Malinger for 10 years and was principal at Perry until last summer, said he’s seen her “work her magic” time and time again in coaching other teachers. He called her mentoring abilities masterful and inspiring, while noting her humble nature.
“She has the ability to effectively communicate with teachers to get them to try new strategies and reflect on their practices, for the benefit of the students,” Zieleniewski said. “Many times I have overheard Mrs. Malinger comment to a teacher after modeling a lesson in the classroom, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’”
Longtime fellow Perry educator Tammy Bennett, who now teaches at Hampshire Elementary School, agreed that Malinger has earned a highly credible reputation among her colleagues, who always feel comfortable inviting her into their classrooms.
“She doesn’t just talk the talk but has walked the walk alongside both students and educators,” Bennett said. “She has lent an empathetic ear to teachers who had questions, were looking for advice or resources, or who just wanted a kind and understanding someone to listen to their trials and tribulations. That someone was Barb.”
Bennett said she’ll never forget a shining example of Malinger’s ability to see the potential in all students. Malinger was working with a boy who was struggling not only in reading but in life.
In addition to having special lunches with him, she began to voluntarily tutor him to help build his self-confidence. Eventually she had a tremendous impact on him, both in and out of the classroom.
“This boy did not want to let Mrs. Malinger down,” Bennett said. “He told her, ‘You think I’m good. You believe in me.’ She sees the possibilities in students rather than their problems.”