Nancy Goodnight: Meet Cindy Martin, following her passion

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 15, 2015

Nancy Goodnight, the Rowan-Salisbury School System Teacher of the Year, has offered to highlight the good things happening in public education by sharing the story of one amazing teacher each month. This is the first story in that series


By Nancy Goodnight

Special to the Salisbury Post

Walk the halls of Milldbrige Elementary, and you will see a school bustling with active learning. If you open the door to room 412, you will find a dedicated teacher hard at work engaging her students in meaningful learning activities.

Cindy Martin, a soft-spoken, graceful woman, teaches a class of handicapped children needing an adapted curriculum. For 22 years she’s been following her passion, teaching exceptional children for RSSS. “It’s a calling,” she says in a simple, matter-of-fact manner. Cindy Martin whole-heartedly knows she is doing exactly what she is supposed to be doing. How did her teaching story begin?

Her story began began before she entered Catawba College as a second generation Indian. In high school she had decided to major in education with the goal of teaching high school English. Before committing to that path, however, a volunteer experience with the local Special Olympics altered that path. “I fell in love with EC and went that direction,” she says. After the decision was made, the way things fell into place for Martin affirmed her belief in her calling to teach exceptional children. There just happened to be full-funding for her education through a grant. Martin just happened to begin a program that only began at Catawba the year prior and ended the year after she graduated. “I just knew that’s the direction I was supposed to go,” she says with a laugh.

Martin’s decision has touched the lives of many Rowan County children in a meaningful and positive way. Over the past twenty two years, Martin has, “done a little bit of everything.” From teaching through inclusion, to teaching in self-contained classrooms serving students with mild exceptional needs to the severely handicapped population, Martin consistently learns through each experience, saying, “Each group is different, so you learn and teach differently.” She also seeks out the opportunity to learn and grow in her profession. Today, she is working to earn her M.Ed. in Adapted Curriculum as well as a Graduate Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder from UNC-Charlotte.

Asked about the biggest change in special education that has happened during her career, Martin says the advancement in technology has been a game changer. Access to the internet has made endless resources, material and ideas readily available.

Improvement to communication methods targeted to the nonverbal student has also changed dramatically. “We have used augmentative communication for a long time, but now, with the iPads it’s much more effective.”

Augmentative communication, methods used to replace or supplement speech or writing, was challenging for teachers and students. “It was hard to master, time-consuming and cumbersome,” says Martin.

Now apps and the iPad have allowed Martin to use augmentative communication in a much more effective manner. “We now have access to apps that have screens with different types of words like actions, people, descriptors, animals, and pronouns.”

This allows some of her students to use the iPad to “talk.” The recent 1:1 digital conversion in RSSS has provided the possibility for some of her students to have  the freedom to take their learning into the real world.

Speaking of a particular student, “She can then take her iPad to Walmart and buy something, or go to McDonald’s and oder a cheeseburger,” says Martin, adding, “Technology provides an opportunity for her to communicate in the world. It will give her a voice.”

Another way Martin has seen technology improve the classroom experience for her students is through the interactive whiteboard she uses in her classroom. EQUALS, the adapted math curriculum used by the RSS EC Department, was hard to manage due to all its bits and pieces. Martin created flip charts to provide a visual aid for students that includes virtual manipulatives to supplement the program. She has seen increased motivation, interactivity and engagement in her students.

Martin is admired and respected by her colleagues. She was named Millbridge Elementary’s Teacher of the Year in 2013 and was just recently named RSS EC Teacher of Excellence, both honors for which she was nominated and voted on by colleagues. “It’s quite an honor and makes you feel like you are doing what you should still be doing, “ she says of these honors.

Martin and her husband were born and raised in Rowan County and have two grown sons and a daughter, who just began her freshman year at Catawba College. She says her family is supportive of her career, but adds honestly and with a chuckle, “We work way beyond the clock, and they wonder why, with my degree, I don’t make more money.”

Fortunately for her students, the money isn’t why she does it.

“I’ve had some kids for six years in a row, it’s kind of like raising them. They become my babies.”

What advice would Martin give a new teacher entering the EC classroom? “Take care of the child first, the curriculum follows,” she urges. She said the child’s future has to be the prime consideration, and targeting those social and functional skills needed to foster independence must be a priority.

She also advises surrounding yourself with colleagues who are equally passionate about the students. “My class is only as successful as it is because I reach out to other professionals to fill the gaps.” 

Her final piece of advice for new EC teachers is to structure the classroom to meet the students’ needs. “I used to think I’d change the kids and change the world. Now I structure their world and their environment for them, so they can buy in.”

She may not think she’s changing kids and the world, but spend any time in Cindy Martin’s classroom and you will see the truth. She is changing lives, and the difference she is making is obvious when you look into the eyes of her students.