For as long as Allison Cyr ’11 can remember, she wanted to be a teacher. Coming from a family of educators, Cyr would often position her stuffed animals in a row in her childhood bedroom and pretend they were an audience of students.
“That’s what I thought teaching was,” she recalls with a laugh. “Now, I wake up every day and wonder what my students are going to teach me.”
Cyr’s view that the student-teacher relationship is reciprocal has allowed her to connect with her fourth-grade students at Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School in Indio, California. It also helped her to secure the title of 2021 California Teacher of the Year.
Meeting students where they are
At the University of Redlands, Cyr studied sociology and anthropology and jointly pursued a teaching credential through the School of Education with the end goal of becoming a high school math teacher. But after completing a long-term substitute teaching assignment for a fifth-grade class, she changed her mind.
“With elementary school students, you get to pick back up every day where you left off,” she says. “It’s so fun to watch them grow and see the lightbulb go off when they make real-life connections with what you’re teaching.”
Cyr believes that every student has something to offer—teachers just have to meet them where they are. Amidst an educational environment of standardized testing and common core curriculum, she often starts casual conversations with her students about what they want to be when they grow up or what their current interests are. These interactions allow her to get to know her students on a deeper level while also showing them she values their thoughts.
Throughout her life, Cyr had several teachers who demonstrated this approach. She recalls her high school math teacher, Dennis Chavez, who often told stories that revealed his own struggles and hard work to overcome them. Her aunt, also a high school math teacher, actively took interest in her students’ lives. Former U of R Professor James Spickard made the time to meet with Cyr outside of class, ultimately teaching her about life beyond a textbook.
“Students need to see their teachers be human,” she says. “They need to see that you fail. That you get back up; that you try again; that you make mistakes. That it’s okay to laugh and it’s okay to cry.”
This transparency and honesty isn’t the only way Cyr has served her students. To stay with the students she had been distance teaching during the pandemic, Cyr transitioned from teaching third grade to fourth at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year. When her school transitioned to hybrid learning and invited students back to the campus in the spring, she volunteered to continue to teach remotely for students who needed it.
Throughout the experience, she has looked at the bright side. “It was amazing to watch the kids adapt,” she says. “[The pandemic] provided a new perspective on what to do in a classroom and how to make it better. I was grateful I could continue to do my job in a pandemic; two decades ago, none of this technology even existed. I truly believe that it comes down to the teacher’s attitude. If the teacher makes the most of it, the kids are willing to show up and learn.”
When Cyr received the call that she had been named one of the five California Teachers of the Year in October 2020, she couldn’t believe it. While the distinction lends itself to congratulations from fellow school administrators and teachers, the title has also given her a new platform and a chance to talk about Twenty4Change, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit she created while she was a student teacher.
Founded with fellow Bulldog Briana Enriquez-Roven ’09, ’11, the organization facilitates programming and promotes the idea that it only takes 20 minutes or $20 to change a life. By supporting various causes, making care packages, and facilitating other acts of kindness, Cyr works to create opportunities for people—including her students—to make a difference in the world.
The emphasis on community service was something that Cyr liked about the University of Redlands because it was a value she grew up with. In the years since she graduated, Cyr has worked to continue the mission in her own life. While at Redlands, she even donated a kidney to her former Spanish teacher, Mr. Lienhard, after she turned out to be a near-perfect blood match.
Cyr’s reasoning for the donation stems back to the importance of connection. During a trip to Spain in high school, Cyr experienced a bout of homesickness. Lienhard and his wife responded by taking steps to ensure she was consoled and comforted. More than a decade after this initial display of kindness, Cyr and Lienhard teach in the same school district and see each other regularly.
Currently in her 10th year of teaching, Cyr is able to identify the ways in which she has grown, personally and professionally. Previously wary of change, she notes that she’s more confident than ever.
“Teaching has taught me that there’s a reason why I am where I am,” she says. “It’s where I’m supposed to be.”