A familiar storyline for teachers is that the newest are brimming with idealism, the more seasoned struggling not to burn out. But after nine years on the job at Lawton Elementary School in Seattle, Lyon Terry’s combination of energy and experience were notable enough that last spring a parent nominated him to be Washington state’s Teacher of the Year.
Monday, while sitting on stage with eight other finalists at EMP Museum, he learned that he had won.
“I was not expecting this,” said the visibly moved fourth-grade teacher, his voice breaking, as he accepted the award.
A statewide selection committee of parents and educators cited Terry’s classroom balance between intellectual conversation and hands-on experimentation “with just a bit of guitar thrown into the mix” — nodding to the teacher’s penchant for sometimes bursting out in song.
Among the eight other finalists were an Advanced Placement government teacher, and a Presidential Award winner for Excellence in Science and Math. But the slight elementary-school educator from Seattle immediately demonstrated some of the intensity he is likely to show as an ambassador for the profession.
“We are on the precipice of great things for our state, but we need to attract great people to move that forward,” he told the audience, who had gathered at the museum in Seattle, just a short drive from the small Magnolia school.
Winners of the annual award spend much of the school year meeting with legislators, business leaders and teachers-in-training to advocate for the issues they believe are important and underrecognized. Terry immediately hinted that energized teacher recruitment will guide much of his work.
He sits on a school-district committee aimed at aligning reading and writing curricula with Common Core State Standards, and has overseen a 10-point improvement in fourth-grade writing scores during his time at Lawton.
Evolving standards are among many things that make teaching today far more complex than it used to be, said state Superintendent for Public Instruction Randy Dorn.
Last year’s winner, Katie Brown, who works with nonnative English speakers in Bellingham, was a perfect case in point.
“Teachers are superheroes,” she said. “We need to be treated like that.”
During her year in the position, Brown spoke with President Obama, Gov. Jay Inslee and technology magnate Bill Gates.
That last meeting was something Brown pushed for herself.
“I wasn’t asked to attend a meeting with Bill Gates,” she said, referring to the man who has become a lightning rod on education issues. “I advocated for it.”
She encouraged her successor to take a similar activist approach.
“Get your voice out there,” Brown told all nine finalists. “Teachers don’t get recognized enough. But we are the profession that prepares every other profession in the world.”
Photo gallery: Go here to see more images from Monday’s ceremony at EMP.