Cynthia Macioce has had two starts to her teaching career.

Cynthia Macioce has had two starts to her teaching career. The first came just after graduating from Otterbein University (then College) and the second time 17 years later when she started working at Gahanna Lincoln High School.

"I taught for two years at Bishop Hartley High School, ran their (drama) shows, taught English and speech, and I thought, 'I'm not a teacher,'" said Macioce. She quit teaching and worked as an actress, then got a master's degree in communications at Bowling Green State University, got married, raised a family. Then one day in 1995, she got a call from Petie Dodrill, the only drama teacher Gahanna Lincoln had ever had, asking her to return to teaching.

"The person who said she could never be a teacher, that there was no way I could ever communicate with kids," Macioce said, "I went back."

And she's never left and now, in her 20th year of teaching there, Macioce has won Columbus Parent's Teacher of the Year award in the high-school division. In his nominating statement, Gahanna Lincoln's principal, Bobby Dodd, wrote: "Teachers such as Cindi Macioce don't come along every day. She has a natural gift to help people."

What Dodd left out of his nominating statement was what an unusual year Macioce was enduring and has now triumphed over: In December, she was diagnosed with Stage II endometrial cancer. Surgery in January was successful and she returned to work two and a half weeks later.

"I came back the evening we opened our dinner-theater show, You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," Macioce said. "Probably a little too soon, but you do what you have to do."

As always for Macioce, the experience became a teaching moment.

"The seniors took ownership," Macioce said, noting that the group, which takes a Performance Studio class that culminates in a dinner-theater production where the actors serve audience members while remaining in character, had done their own blocking and rehearsing. She could not have been prouder or more pleased with the results and it reinforced for her what she has learned best from her return to teaching: "I paid attention to the kids this time around. It's amazing what the kids teach you."

Her path arguably began with rejection: She was a sophomore at Hartley, had never considered acting as an extracurricular activity, let alone a career, and she decided to audition for the show's musical-theater production of The Music Man. She made it to a final round of auditions for lead role, but didn't get it.

"I went back to my classroom and told one of my friends I didn't get the part and that it was OK, but deep down, I knew it wasn't," Macioce said. "That's when I realized I loved something more than me. It was a very defining moment."

Though she didn't get the big part, she did still get a role in the production and met her future husband, Mario, who did snag the lead male role. Today, their family includes daughters Julie and Maria.

From Hartley, Macioce went on to get her bachelor's degree in Theatre and Speech from Otterbein. While there, she experienced another defining moment - when teacher Fred Thayer pulled her aside and told her, "You should consider education."

That lead to her first start in teaching - back at Hartley, but something just didn't click, so she headed out on the road to perform with a regional touring company. But even there, classrooms kept popping up in her life.

"I found that when we went into schools and the community and did educational events, I really gravitated toward that," Macioce said.

Grad school, marriage and family followed in short order until years later, when her youngest daughter Julie was 5, Macioce got a call from Petie Dodrill, the retiring drama teacher at Gahanna Lincoln, who was able to lure Macioce back into the classroom - and theater - for good.

"I am so grateful to have found this path," Macioce said and she is especially grateful to work in a community that values the arts and their role in education so highly.

"They understand the arts are not a luxury - they're a necessity," Macioce said. "And we have so many students here who elect the arts classes. Twenty to 30 percent are involved in our shows, and that's not including the band, chorale and other productions. Gahanna is a very, very arts-heavy school."

But what is the value of arts education - or the "soft skills," as Macioce terms them - in a results-driven world?

"The ability to communicate effectively, to speak in coherent sentences in front of people, time management, creative problem-solving," Macioce said, "- (these are) all the things that businesses are saying they need and want in employees."

It also helps that the school's drama department is self-sustaining - "We operate in the black," Macioce explained. And these productions provide more real-life lessons for students in how to function in the "real world."

Now, 20 years back into her education career, Macioce reflected on what she would tell herself, way back when she was starting out.

"Stay flexible," she said. "Keep your sense of humor. Don't look at the clock - I don't know any teacher who looks at it as a 9-to-5 job. Be encouraging and don't ever give up."

And part of not giving up means moving ahead with fresh new ideas. Macioce is nurturing a plan to connect her students with local senior citizens, who would journal about their life experiences so that the students can then create dramatic scenes from those stories.

She is also looking forward to this fall's production of It's a Wonderful Life, that iconic American tale of a man who gets a chance to see how the lives of those around him would have been affected if he had never lived.

"The last time we did it was 2005," Macioce said. "After my diagnosis, it's going to hold a lot more significance for me."

Video interview with the Fam Five's Jim Fischer
of GLHS' 2014 musical production "Hairspray" with Macioce