Through her 31 years of teaching, Mary Kay Cillo has learned one thing — “Kids can teach us a lot if we let them.”
Recently honored with the Teacher of the Year award for the Norwalk school district, Cillo said she’s not even considering retirement even though she’s put in enough years.
“I still love what I do and I love being around the kids and everybody I teach with,” she said. “I’m not even thinking about it yet.” Cillo has worked with Norwalk school her entire career.
She spent two years teaching health and physical education to elementary students and has been at the middle school for 29 years. She now teaches eighth grade health and physical education for seventh and eighth graders.
With several teachers in her family, it was the only career choice Cillo considered.
“I was athletic and that was before girls’ sports, really,” she said. “Education was very important to our family. It is the only thing I really wanted to do.”
Teaching health along physical education keeps Cillo always looking for new material.
“There’s always new things going on and new innovations and new techniques,” she said. “It doesn’t become stale. The body hasn’t changed, but medicine certainly has.”
With her entire career in one system, Cillo has taught two generations of many families. While her students haven’t changed, she said, their circumstances certainly have.
“Kids are kids,” she said. “One of the biggest disadvantages now is kids in some cases are raising themselves. The kids haven’t changed. Families have and technology have changed them, but underneath it all they are still kids.”
But even with new challenges, Cillo can’t imagine stepping away from her job.
“I laugh every day and I learn from them every day,” she said. “It is never the same two days in a row.”
Cillo wasn’t expecting to be voted Teacher of the Year by her peers.
“There are so many people that do so much more than I do. Really to single anyone out is difficult, but I am very humbled and very honored that they chose me,” she said.
Cillo’s entire life has focused around education as her husband, Steve, is retired after 31 years with Norwalk schools, 25 of them as her principal. He now teaches at Bowling Green State University’s main campus.
“It is a great opportunity to touch lives,” Cillo said of her career. “You’re always learning.”
Middle School Principal James Hagemeyer has worked with Cillo for 14 years.
“She does an excellent job in the classroom. She’s dedicated to the kids. She teaches a subject that is very difficult to teach,” he said. “It is a very difficult age and she does an outstanding job of bringing in all the issues and discussing them very, very frankly.”
Hagemeyer said Cillo is always willing to help out her students and volunteers her time for many extracurricular activities from dances to academic recognition.
Cillo’s brother — Pat Martin, president of Fisher-Titus Medical Center — also was honored by Norwalk schools with the annual Friend of Education award. She said she was honored to be able to present the award to her big brother as someone who promoted education in the community.
Martin received his award at the same meeting Cillo got hers.
“It was kind of funny,” she said. “He knew about mine and I knew about his, but we didn’t know about our own.”