Wake County Teacher of the Year winner connects with students

Matthew Scialdone, an English teacher at Middle Creek High School, teaches his first class of the day Friday in Apex. Scialdone was named the Wake County school system’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year,
Matthew Scialdone, an English teacher at Middle Creek High School, teaches his first class of the day Friday in Apex. Scialdone was named the Wake County school system’s 2015-16 Teacher of the Year,

Matthew Scialdone spent many an afternoon at Charlotte Catholic High School sitting in detention.

How the tables have turned.

Scialdone, 39, now heads up the after-school detention program at Middle Creek High School in Apex.

“I tell them, ‘I was a better bad kid than you. You can’t trick me,’” Scialdone said. “I had to deal with nuns, man. They had God on their side.”

But discipline is far from his only forte. Scialdone, an English teacher, was named Wake County Public School System Teacher of the Year on Thursday. He was picked from 13 finalists and won $1,000 and a variety of other prizes.

He’ll now represent the county’s 10,000 teachers in the state Teacher of the Year program.

Scialdone is co-chair of Middle Creek’s English department and teaches general freshman English and African-American literature. He also teaches language arts, science and social studies during summer school.

He has been at the school for 13 years – since the day it opened – and is a favorite of both students and staff.

Principal Wade Martin describes Scialdone as “the total package.”

“What sets him apart is his ability to connect with students,” Martin said. “All good teachers know their subject material, but the great ones make it come alive.”

Scialdone said he always thought he wanted to be a teacher, even during his rebellious years.

“I was a knucklehead in school,” he said. “I thought I knew everything. And I was a class clown, although I still loved learning. ... I grew up in a house where reading was just what you did.”

Now his goals are to inspire students, especially those who are unruly like he used to be, and to spread his love for reading.

Energy and showmanship

Scialdone’s class often starts with a rapid-fire grammar quiz.

Scialdone plays off their competitive nature, timing the quiz and writing each class’s time on the board for the other blocks to see and try to beat.

And that’s how he gets them to learn comma rules.

“It’s not for a grade or anything, but the block who’s winning will be like, ‘What’s wrong witchu?’” Scialdone said, imitating a student’s taunt. “And that motivates them more than any grade I could give them.”

After Friday’s quiz, around 7:40 a.m., the students opened up “To Kill a Mockingbird.” It’s Scialdone’s favorite book and the inspiration for the name of his 6-year-old son, Finch.

Scialdone talked about Jim Crow and grilled students on vocabulary. He also goofily imitated the pose an angry woman strikes in one scene.

“He makes his class fun,” said 14-year-old Ana Delgado. “He’s got so much energy. It’s early, but he keeps us awake.”

Victor Harrison, also 14, said he’s likely to fall asleep at some point in the school day. But never in Scialdone’s class.

“He’s hilarious,” Harrison said. “He’s fast-paced, though. It’s hard to keep up.”

‘He doesn’t give up’

During a lull Friday, one former student came by to offer congratulations.

C.J. Clarke, dressed in his U.S. Army fatigues, immediately wrapped his former teacher in a bear hug.

“I mean, what other job does that happen?” Scialdone said after Clarke left. “That wasn’t staged or anything. For all the crazy stuff and challenges, you also get stuff like that.”

Scialdone is a man of some contradictions: class clown turned detention supervisor. An English teacher who talks in slang. A classroom rebel turned Teacher of the Year.

But to many, just watching him teach is proof that he’s every bit deserving of the accolade.

Martin said Scialdone is such a talented teacher, he’s shocked it took 13 years for him to be recognized as the best around.

Scialdone has been honored before, as Middle Creek’s teacher of the year in 2008 and Wake County’s beginning teacher of the year in 2002.

Martin wasn’t at Middle Creek for those awards but said he’s not surprised. Not many people want to teach ninth-grade general English, Martin said.

Scialdone not only volunteers every year, he excels.

“For the kids who struggle with English, he’s their savior,” Martin said. “He doesn’t give up on them.”

Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran

Matthew Scialdone

Age: 39

The basics: He teaches ninth-grade English and African-American Literature at Middle Creek High, where he has taught for 13 years. He is co-chair of the English Department, runs the after-school detention program and teaches Summer School.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Appalachian State University and master’s degree in literature from N.C. State University

The best advice he got about teaching: “Have high expectations for your students,” he said. “They will almost always rise to meet those expectations, and even when they don’t achieve those highest-set goals, growth has occurred all the same.”

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