Maser makes a difference

October 07, 2002|by PEPPER BALLARD

Editor's note: This is the first of a monthly series highlighting excellent educators in Washington County high schools. Next month: Boonsboro High School.

A student slowly walks by teacher Cyndy Maser's office, waves a toilet seat cover at her and continues down the hall.

The seat is a hall pass, Maser said with a laugh. "They're not dismantling the johns."

Maser has been a teacher at The Alternative High School, a remedial school for county ninth- and 10-grade students, for eight years.

"We have to do wacky things here - the normal things don't work for them," she said.

A special education teacher who was raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Maser said it's her ability to listen, laugh and discipline that helps her keep an even head and an even hand when it comes to the 25 students who filter through her classroom.


"These kids are forgotten a lot of times because they act out," she said.

Maser only deals with the types of students who have trouble sitting still or have learning disabilities, so her goals differ from those of the average high school teacher.

She's trying to get her students to fix their behavior so they can go back to their home high school, which doesn't always happen.

"Obviously we want the kids to get their high school diploma," Maser said.

But, she said, "Home is the biggest obstacle for these kids."

Some students, she said, have slept in cars and many have a variety of emotional problems, so it's up to her, six other teachers and two mental health workers to create a safe place for them to learn.

Maser said the school, a cube-shaped, seven-classroom building near South Hagerstown High School, has to be a community for them.

"Sometimes I think we make them feel too safe here and then they don't want to leave," she said.

Maser can't seem to leave the kids, either.

She juggles working at the school during the regular day; teaching after hours with the school's Twilight tutoring program for students with extreme difficulties; and teaching nights at The Evening High School, set in the lower level of South High, for students trying to get their GEDs.

"I switch hats all the time," Maser said.

She switched career paths, too.

After double-majoring in English and history at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Maser took advantage of an opportunity to student teach through her school.

She was asked to teach a deaf girl.

"I didn't know what to do with her," Maser said. "They said 'teach her government.'"

Through that experience, Maser gained a new philosophy because she had to think of so many ways to teach the girl things.

"Teaching a regular kid is OK, but a special-needs student really needs you," Maser said.

The differences between teaching her first student and the students she has now are slim. At The Alternative High School, she said, "You have to make it interesting, you have to catch their attention and you have to add a sense of humor.

"But I have to be firm," she said while patting a highly bangled wrist against her leg.

Maser taught seventh-grade special education at Springfield Middle School before she became a teacher at The Alternative High School and said she runs into students from both schools while out and about.

"I try to keep tabs with the kids," Maser said.

She said her students don't always take the straight path to graduation, but she doesn't hold that against them.

"I think kids are successful when they're productive citizens," Maser said. Some have gone on to work in good restaurants or be good parents, she said.

She compares her teaching to planting seeds.

"You may not see the seeds grow, but maybe somewhere along the line it will sink in," Maser said.

The seeds don't always grow, though, and for Maser that's hard to take.

In those cases, she said with a deep sigh, "I have to think about the ones that did. You can't dwell on the ones that didn't."

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