New Lenox teacher has set high standards for students for 20 years

Cindy Mack: ‘Each child can give you such a gift if you just remain open to it’

Cynthia Mack

Cindy Mack has consistently set high standards for her students – academically, behaviorally and socially – throughout her 20-year career.

Mack, currently a third grade teacher at Spencer Pointe Elementary, said students easily meet those standards – if Mack does one thing.

“I try to make a personal connection with each of my students,” said Mack, who spent her first seven years at Nelson Prairie School.

Mack said that once the connection happens, students “respect her as a teacher” and she “respects them as students.”

“The behavior then falls into place,” Mack said.

To encourage quality socialization, Mack infuses “fun” elements into teaching. For instance, after students complete math problems on the board, they can choose a cheer everyone recites together, Mack said. For special projects, Mack pairs students who’ve never worked together so they can relate to each other on a more personal level, she said.

She’s also brought her quilting skills into the classroom to expand and enrich her students’ experiences and to provide another level of collaboration. Before the pandemic, Mack paired her third grade students with their first grade book buddies to create themed fabric squares, using templates and markers on fabric, for a commemorative quilt in honor of Spencer Pointe’s 10th anniversary, she said.

Once Mack brought her sewing machine to school. The older children helped the younger children add their squares, she said. The quilt now hangs in the hallway of Spencer Pointe. In previous years, Mack used a similar activity to teach about the quilts used in the Underground Railroad, she said.

“We talked about how the quilts helped the slaves navigate the terrain and find safe places,” Mack said.

The use of technology in the classroom presents challenges, Mack said. Students are so engaged with technology and “being online” that it can take more effort to keep them interested in topics without it, she said.

Yet, technology has enhanced Mack’s ability to teach, too. For instance, after Mack’s students read the book “On the Same Day in March: A Tour of the World’s Weather,” by Marilyn Singer, the students used Google slides to create a pictorial presentation of the weather in different parts of the world, she said.

“It opened up a while new world at students’ fingertips that wasn’t available years ago,” Mack said.

Mack extends fun and connection to the school’s staff by leaving homemade baked goods in the staff lounge “to treat all the people I admire,” she said. What was once a spontaneous surprise has become a monthly treat, Mack’s way of treating her co-workers since Mack will retire in May, Mack said.

Deciding to retire wasn’t easy, she said.

“There were some tears involved in that decision,” Mack said. “I enjoy the students so much. They keep me young at heart and make me smile every day. I will miss that.”

Mack hopes to spend some of that retirement time using her quilting skills to create for people in need. And she wants people to know that it’s not just students who learn from the classroom experience. Teachers learn, too, she said.

“I’ve learned that each child can give you such a gift if you just remain open to it,” Mack said. “Whether it’s their smile, whether it’s their sense of humor, whether it’s the way they enter the building – every student can give you a special gift if you just remain open to that which they are giving you.”