Hazelwood teacher honored for going above and beyond
December 6, 2012
By Christina Corrales-Toy
Donald Maher does what any dedicated parent would do.
He is a fan at every extracurricular activity, including ballet and whatever sporting event is in season. He has fun with the kids, but he’s strict when he has to be. He puts time and energy into crafting a meaningful relationship with his kids. But most importantly, he teaches and inspires his children to want to be better.
The only thing is that Maher is not a father, per se; he’s a fifth-grade teacher at Hazelwood Elementary School.
“I don’t have any children of my own yet, so I look at my students like they are all kind of my children,” he said.
With the enthusiasm of a proud father, Maher spends his free time roaming the sidelines at soccer, baseball and football games, or sitting front and center at one of his students’ dance recitals.
It’s all a part of his effort to show his students that he cares about their lives both inside and outside of the classroom.
“I want them to see that I’m not just here Monday through Friday and that’s all I’m here to do,” Maher said. “I want them to see that I’m interested in what they’re doing. It’s great when the students say, ‘You know, Mr. Maher is taking the time to come see me in my environment, so I’m going to give him everything I’ve got in his environment.’”
Maher’s outside efforts pay dividends in the classroom, stimulating the students to want to work harder, said Christina Mason, whose daughter Emma, now a seventh-grader at McKnight Middle School, had him for fourth and fifth grades.
“He takes an interest in the students’ families and their lives, and it makes them feel really important and it makes the kids want to really engage in class and what’s going on,” she said.
Emma Mason said Maher is easily one of her favorite teachers.
“He was nice,” she said. “He treats his students more like people instead of just kids.”
It’s not often that a teacher will spend so much of his or her time continually engaging with students, but it’s all Maher has ever known thanks to Ms. McCalip, the fifth-grade teacher who inspired him to become an educator.
“I just remember her being really cool, someone I really looked up to,” Maher said. “She was almost like an adult that got me. She made it a point to see me outside of the classroom, so that’s why I try and do it with my students.”
That meant that as a kid growing up in California, Ms. McCalip would come watch Maher compete in his first love, baseball. Before Maher began his teaching career in Arizona, he played semiprofessional baseball.
He has continued to keep the sport in his life by coaching with Eastside Select Sports.
“I enjoy coaching more than anything, more than playing,” he said. “I just love being able to share a lot of my experiences with the kids.”
Christina Mason described Maher as a bit of a celebrity in the Newcastle community.
“It’s funny, you go to him at Starbucks and say hi, and like a celebrity, he and his wife are interrupted every five minutes when they are in public,” she said. “But you know, he just loves the community and he’s given back so much.”
Maher doesn’t mind engaging with students and parents outside of school; in fact, he loves it. While he lives in Renton, he does all of his grocery shopping in Newcastle, just so he can interact with the community.
“To be honest with you, I like running into parents and students in Safeway,” he said. “It’s fun. I like seeing people away from the school environment, just because I like to be able to interact on a normal basis compared to in a classroom.”
Maher’s dedication earned him a 2012 Newcastle Chamber of Commerce Diamond Award, which is proudly displayed in his classroom. In addition to his commitment to the students, he was also honored for his work with an after-school tutoring program and the fifth-grade science camp.
“It was awesome,” he said of the award. “It’s an honor simply because it’s coming from the community in which I work in. I love how strong the community sense is in Newcastle.”