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June 6, 2017

John Malone named LHS rookie teacher of the year

John Malone just finished his first year teaching special education at Liberty High School.
Special education teacher John Malone, 24, has been selected as Liberty High School’s 2017 Rookie Teacher of the Year.

This first-time $500 award, funded through a grant from Apple Federal Credit Union Educational Foundation, recognizes the outstanding efforts of teachers entering the profession.

Grateful to receive the recognition, Mr. Malone deflected praise to his colleagues.

“I was incredibly honored when I received this award,” Mr. Malone said. “I can recall the new teacher orientation in August 2016 when I met so many remarkable and outstanding individuals.

“Winning this award was definitely an honor, but I could not have achieved it without the help of so many great faculty members at Liberty High School,” he added. “The LHS social studies and special education departments are two very close-knit groups in which everyone shares the same passion of assisting students reach their highest potential.”

A native of Connellsville, Pa., Malone first realized his passion for education after completion of his freshman year at Saint Vincent College.

Before his sophomore year, he worked at a nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania that placed students from low-income families and students with disabilities in camps and jobs for the summer.

He spent five summers overseeing various youth programs, including monitoring high school and college students in work placements, teaching Kindergarten through 8th grade youth camps, and leading seminars to prepare students for college and/or the work force.

“Witnessing the work ethic and the strides these students made were truly remarkable,” he said, “and I wanted to make an even bigger difference.”

Two people in particular inspired him to devote his career to education: recently retired Malinda Pilla, who taught at Fauquier High School and Kettle Run High School for more than 30 years, and Malinda’s husband Joe, who taught in Prince William County for more than 30 years.

Building relationships remains Mr. Malone’s favorite aspect of teaching.

“The best part about my job is that I get to work with some remarkable and hardworking students in my favorite subject area (social studies),” he said. “I feel like my content knowledge of social studies, mixed with building trust and relationships with students makes for a structured and inviting atmosphere for students and allows me to assist my co-teachers in any way possible.”

Mr. Malone’s first year of teaching led to another perk — being selected as varsity assistant coach for baseball and head coach for cross-country.

“Baseball is a game that I have played from tee ball to the collegiate level. While I miss playing this game, getting to coach is a new challenge that is very rewarding,” he said. “Passing my knowledge of the game onto my students is a cool experience, and when they succeed, there is no better feeling.”

In his nomination for the rookie teacher of the year award, colleagues described Mr. Malone as a teacher who displayed deep respect and compassion for all of his students on a daily basis.

“He has helped them grow academically and personally through his constant encouragement,” wrote Liberty’s Assistant Principal Lauren Milburn. “His belief in each student has allowed each of them to develop a stronger sense of self-worth.”

Ms. Milburn praised him for demonstrating a willingness to work collegially with his co-workers, noting that he had worked effectively in six different collaborative inclusion settings.

“The strong relationships John has built with his peers has evolved into a mutual respect with each of them. John is reflective in his teaching and willingly accepts feedback in an effort to hone his skills to become a great teacher,” she said.

Ms. Milburn said Mr. Malone helps his students see the relationship between the classroom and real life.

“He uses his students’ individual interests to cultivate their desire to learn. He offers students choices and uses multiple formats in instructional presentations,” she said.

Principal Sam Cox said Liberty High School was extremely fortunate that Mr. Malone chose to move to Virginia specifically to work here.

“Not only does he model our tenets of leadership, high expectations, and service, but he also inspires creativity, encourages critical thinking and fosters innovation in the classroom,” Mr. Cox said.

What advice would Mr. Malone impart to next year’s rookie teachers?

“Get to know your students,” he said without hesitation. “Think back to when you were in high school; doesn’t everyone remember a teacher who had an interest in their students outside of the block they taught them? Asking students what they are going to do over the weekend, how their game went last night, or simply greeting them with a smile and hello at the door can make such a difference.

“Showing students that you care about them as individuals and not just a seat in your class can change the entire makeup of the morale of your students,” he added. “Building relationships with students, parents, and colleagues is the number one way to enjoy being a teacher and make a difference in the lives of your students.”

A resident of Culpeper, Mr. Malone is engaged to Blaire Puskar of Dawson, Pa. They plan to marry in June 2018.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Saint Vincent College where he was a four-year member of the baseball team. As a senior and captain in 2015, he set a new school batting title, hitting .464, a mark that earned him a fifth-place ranking in the country for NCAA Division III baseball.

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