‘This has definitely reignited my passion’
By Brittany Anderson
DRIPPING SPRINGS — For one Dripping Springs ISD teacher, a recent recognition has sparked her love for teaching all over again.
Jamie Malchak, a kindergarten teacher at Cypress Springs Elementary School, was recognized on Jan. 6 as the inaugural winner of the Texas Education Service Center Region 13 Star of the Month award. The region includes 102 school districts across Central Texas and winners are recognized for making a positive and lasting impact on their students and contributing to the success of the public school system.
Although Malchak is fairly new to DSISD, she was nominated by Cypress Springs Principal Kellie Raymond who called her a “light and joy” for the school and the district.
Only in her second year teaching here, Malchak is a “California transplant” with 19 years of teaching in California under her belt. There, she started her career in kindergarten (later being moved to fourth grade), but began feeling burnt out and sought a fresh start.
“I wasn’t sure if I was making a difference anymore,” Malchak said.
Malchak and her husband found Dripping Springs and it was the charm of the Hill Country and school district that pulled them in.
Malchak said teaching isn’t something that she always felt destined for, but in the two decades of teaching since, she seems to have found her calling.
“Coming out of high school, I had no clue what I was good at. My mom thought I was good at working with kids, so I just went with it. Moms know best,” Malchak said.
Malchak and her mother have such a close relationship that she flies out to Texas from California every six weeks to help Malchak in her classroom for a full week, doing everything from running small groups to making copies — something she also did when Malchak was still teaching in California.
“My mom had always wanted to be a teacher, but she never got the chance. Now that she’s retired, she helps out,” Malchak said. “She’s my best friend. Moving here was one of the hardest but best decisions.”
In fact, making the transition from California to Texas as a teacher was a challenge in and of itself.
“Texas hours of work are insane. In California, our school hours were six hours. Here, it’s about eight,” Malchak said. “It makes sense why Texas is ranked higher because they’re literally in school longer, but I had to get my stamina up as a teacher. I don’t know how these kindergarteners have an eight-hour school day. It’s pretty impressive. I guess everything in Texas is bigger, the school day included.”
However, Malchak acknowledged that this rigor can come with its own set of problems and is something she tries to address and navigate as an educator.
“It’s kind of sad that we’ve kind of gotten away from the social and emotional [learning]and play time,” Malchak said. “I think we’re seeing more behavior problems because we’re forcing kids to do more than what they’re ready for … I feel like learning needs to be fun, because I feel like as a country we’re taking the fun out of learning and kids see learning more as a punishment these days. I want the kids to go to school, no matter if they’re in fourth grade or kindergarten, and I want them to love learning.”
This philosophy is what has helped shape the way she teaches. For Malchak, being able to speak her students’ “kid language” is the key to creating a healthy classroom environment.
“I’m still very much a kid myself, so I can connect with them. Simple things like standing in line. Not that any adult enjoys it, but I know how boring it can be as a kid. So while we stand in line, we do silly things like ‘do as I do,’ or we pretend to blow bubbles,” Malchak said. “I like to be creative and have fun and try to see things through the children’s perspective. When I plan a lesson, I think about obviously, ‘Can they handle this, is it academically appropriate?’ but then I also look at, ‘Is this something that’s meaningful to them?’ … I want to make sure that they’re into it, that they’re having fun, and the things that we’re doing are activities they can connect with and they want to do.”
Kindergarten has proven to be Malchak’s favorite grade level to teach, allowing her to explore this creativity on a level that others might not be able to, as well as set a good educational foundation for students.
“I think every grade level has its own challenges, but kindergarten is just magical,” Malchak said. “The kids have a good time. Fourth graders have a good time too, but there’s so much testing and so much pressure there, that it’s harder to fit in all the fun stuff [like]we get to do in kindergarten … That’s not to say that K, 1 and 2 are a cake walk, but there’s no state testing, so that pressure is off.”
“In kinder, you can pretty much tie a standard to anything we’re doing,” Malchak continued. “If we’re having a puppet show, it’s because we’re learning how to take turns. If we’re doing a really messy craft, it’s because we’re working on fine motor skills.”
For Malchak, another advantage to teaching at this grade level is being able to connect closely with families. A lot of the time, she said, her students are the parents’ first kid in the school system. As such, she strives to make sure these families know that they are a part of her “extended family” and works to cultivate positive relationships with both students and parents.
Teaching — no matter the city, state, school district or grade level — is not an easy profession. But for educators like Malchak, it’s the drive to make a difference in the lives of kids that make the commitment worth it.
“Kindergarten in my 20s is very different from kindergarten in my 40s … [but]I want to be a ‘lifer,’” Malchak said. “That’s part of the reason I came to Dripping Springs, because they had a great reputation and parents are very involved. Coming from a Title I school in California where there wasn’t a lot of parent support, I was excited to try something new. This has definitely reignited my passion. I definitely was in a slump there for a few years; I was trying to figure out a plan B. So this award was kind of the icing on the cake, because this year has been a lot of fun, and I’m finding the joy in it again. I’m hoping this momentum can continue for 20 more years.”