GaDOE: When did you first realize you wanted to be a teacher?
Maleah Stewart: I never wanted to be a teacher. It was only after I was working in a public school as a speech-language pathologist when I finally realized I was a teacher. Not a “clinician”. Not a “therapist”. A “teacher”. And after 18 years, I can’t imagine any other career!
GaDOE: What keeps you in the classroom?
Maleah: The “Wow” moments. They happen all across my school and are not limited to interactions with students. Some moments stand out more than others, but those “Wow” moments are occurring on some level every single day. I love to reflect on each day and celebrate the good stuff. It keeps me smiling and in a positive mind-set.
GaDOE: What character qualities make great teachers?
Maleah: Great teachers are empathetic, engaging, and empowering. I think academics are important, but to me, these three qualities are the foundation of great teaching.
GaDOE: What is your favorite part of the school year? Why?
Maleah: I love March because of Special Olympics. Our entire school lines the hallways to cheer on our athletes as they go to their buses. It’s a beautiful day and I have yet to get through it without crying. That’s the good stuff…
GaDOE: What is the funniest thing a child has ever said to you?
Maleah: Well, I can’t reveal the funniest remark because it is not entirely appropriate for this forum. But here is an appropriate one: As a speech-language pathologist, I have the privilege of working with the same students over a number of years. Once, a 5th grade student told one of my co-workers, “Four years with Mrs. Stewart really changes a man.” My husband got a real kick out of that one. He said, “It certainly does!” I’m still not sure how to take that.
GaDOE: What is your favorite technology to use for engaging students in learning?
Maleah: I love my Alexa (Echo Dot). She has become part of our classroom community. Our favorite Alexa skill is “Play Ditty." Whatever you say, Alexa will incorporate it into different genres of songs. Watch out for Valentine’s Day because for some reason, she will only sing love songs that day. Alexa brings so much laughter to our classroom.
GaDOE: Everyone likes to know the morning routine of successful people. What is yours?
Maleah: My morning routine is far from pretty. I sleep until the last possible moment… and sometimes even beyond that. Getting out the door, I am a perpetual zig-zagger. I rush through rooms frantically grabbing everything I need. Before leaving the house, I slip on my beloved “magic boots” and on a really good day, I manage to tie the laces before school starts at 9 a.m.
GaDOE: What do you tell students when they need encouragement?
Maleah: I tell students that I believe in them, and I remind them that failure is always an option as long as they don’t give up. Rather than retreating from discomfort, I encourage them to face it head-on and I support them as they work through the discomfort. This is how students develop grit and perseverance, which are qualities they will need in order to achieve success in the future.
GaDOE: What do you tell other teachers when they need encouragement?
Maleah: Before anything else, I listen. I empathize. I hug. I connect. And then I tell them how much they matter, sharing specific examples from their classrooms. It’s often hard to see in a single school year, but their impact is real. It’s really hard work, but teachers are changing lives every single day.
GaDOE: What is the best teaching advice you’ve received?
Maleah: My district superintendent said something years ago that continues to resonate with me. He said, “Students do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” For me, establishing relationships with students is the foundation of teaching.