Cindy Dulcich

“Teaching is not only my job, it’s also my hobby.” — Cindy Dulcich

“The one thing I always noticed about Cindy, is that she walked into the classroom every morning with a smile on her face, as if we were the highlight of her day.” — a former student

It is a daunting task to summarize the enormous impact Cindy Dulcich has had on hundreds of children and their families. She overflows with pride and confidence in each of her students, and has a remarkable ability to understand the educational and emotional needs of each individual student. Cindy Dulcich (fondly referred to as “Ms D” by her student fan club) can capture and recapture the hearts of even the most cynical, frustrated learner.

Her first teaching position was as a 6th grade teacher in Shelton, Washington in 1978. A student from this first class wrote to say, “Cindy taught my sixth grade class thirty years ago and she is the reason I am a teacher today. Cindy’s enthusiasm and energy in the classroom cannot be matched. She created an environment that made her students want to learn. Everything seemed exciting when Cindy talked about it. She loved each of us as if we were her own children. Cindy even invited our class to her wedding and to her parents home. I still strive to be the teacher Cindy was to me over thirty years ago.”

Cindy still has the cookie jar that class gave her for a shower gift. She was making personal connections in her first year of teaching. She hasn’t ever stopped.

Cindy grew up on Mercer Island, Washington, and then moved to Olympia, Washington when she was eleven. Cindy has always had a close knit family and has had an especially important relationship with her father. Her dad, who is turning 93 this year, has always been her confidant; she’s always been able to tell him anything. “He has always championed me, and been proud of me. He is the reason I am who I am.”

Cindy attended University of Oregon, and later earned a Masters of Arts in Teaching at Lewis and Clark College. She met her husband while at U of O. She taught in Chicago while he earned his law degree there, then they moved back to Portland where they’ve been ever since. She feels fortunate to have a partner who is as passionate about his work as she is about hers. After being home for some years with her three girls, Cindy took a position teaching 4th and 5th grade at Atkinson Elementary School, where she’s now been inspiring students (and parents) for the past 20 years.

Although she was ready to go back to teaching after being home with her girls, it was still a heart-wrenching decision. Her girls were young. Her husband encouraged her to take the position because he knew how much she missed being in the classroom. He has always been supportive of her work, and he’s always pitched in, taking the kids to events and classes. He didn’t care if they had cereal for dinner.

Cindy job-shared for 10 years, teaching math and science at school, while raising her three girls at home. While there were times when it was hard to concurrently work and parent, she felt a tremendous responsibility to be with her students. Cindy admits she’s not good at setting boundaries; she has trouble shutting doors. There’s always one more thing to do in a classroom after the students go home, one more thing to get ready for the next day. There is endless need. When her girls (now women) were young, they watched the endless hours Cindy worked and said to her, “We will never be teachers.” But now it is apparent that two out of three probably will be.

Cindy says that being a teacher is an honor and privilege. She never takes it for granted. She loves seeing her students every day. Every child – really everyone – who walks in her classroom door gets all of her. Cindy says, “Every minute I am in the school with the children matters. You never know when you are making a memory.” Cindy has run 8 marathons. She runs in the morning for an hour before going to work – something she’s done for the last 28 years. She seamlessly integrates physical education and team sports into her classroom daily routines. She runs with her students whenever she can fit it into their schedule. She makes time to play kickball with her students during the school day. She teaches them how to juggle.

Cindy has figured out how to create a classroom culture that makes kids want to learn. She believes every student deserves to be challenged. Three years ago as a personal challenge, Cindy started taking piano lessons. She wanted to have the experience of being a learner. She applies what she learns from her piano lessons – to be patient, positive and encouraging with her students; to be clear, articulate, and intentional in her instruction – back to her classroom.

She has always loved being with kids. In high school she would have rather babysat than gone on a date. She enjoyed being a lifeguard. But it was when she became a swimming teacher she started thinking about how to best explain ideas efficiently to kids. It was then that she knew she wanted to be a teacher. She loves to think about what makes kids tick.

Teaching has been very instinctive for her. She teaches from the gut. But she also dwells on how to teach every lesson in the best, most effective way – how to reach every child. Cindy is self-critical and self-conscious, always thinking about how to teach a lesson even better, what words to choose, how to reach one more learner. She practices lessons in front of her mirror. She thinks of teaching as a tremendous responsibility. Even after all these years in the classroom, she asks herself everyday, “How can I be best prepared?” She believes that every moment she shares with her students matters, and she refuses to squander a minute. She wants her students to be able to compete with kids across the country; kids from the most prestigious private schools, or kids at prep schools on the East coast. She knows that someday they will all take the same SAT. These are thoughts that keep her up at night, and that get her out of bed every morning.

In 2010, Cindy was nominated for the OnPoint Prize for Excellence in Education. When an e-mail was circulated about this nomination to our school community notes poured in to support her candidacy. There were letters from students, former students, parents, teachers, grandmothers, classroom volunteers, and multiple student teachers who now have classrooms of their own. Hundreds of people followed her progress in the contest with pride and love, every step of the way.

Cynthia Dulcich is honored by Brad Mersereau. She is a beloved teacher; deep-hearted, innovative and community minded. Cindy Dulcich is a true teaching legend in every sense of the word – at Atkinson Elementary School, in the state of Oregon, and in the world of education, she is a teacher who deserves nothing but the highest honors.

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