An Eastern Washington science teacher today was named the 63rd National Teacher of the Year.
Jeff Charbonneau, from Zillah High in the Yakima Valley, is the first winner from Washington state since 2007, and he will spend a year traveling as an ambassador for the teaching profession.
Charbonneau said today that it took until about his third or fourth conversation about the honor for the news to sink in. “You just keep thinking in the back of your mind, ‘Did I hear them right?'”
He appeared early this morning on the CBS This Morning television show in New York, where the news was announced. He then boarded a train to travel back to Washington D.C. where he will be honored at the White House Tuesday along with the other three finalists and all 2013 State Teachers of the Year.
“I’m blessed to stand on the shoulders of teachers who I continue to learn from,” Charbonneau said, talking about his fellow teachers at Zillah High. He met them first as a student at the school, and now works alongside them.
”It’s not like I have reached the pinnacle of teaching or anything like that,” he said. “I’ve come a long way, but I have a long way to go.”
The other three finalists were an English teacher from Maryland, a special education teacher from Florida and a music teacher from New Hampshire. They were chosen by a national panel with representatives from 15 national education organizations. The committee members personally interview each finalist, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which coordinates the program.
Charbonneau has been teaching in Zillah since 2001. Students can earn up to a quarter and a half of college credit by taking his courses in chemistry, physics, engineering and architecture. He also advises the schools science club, created a regional robotics competition, runs a hiking-and-backpacking club, helps with drama productions and serves as co-president of the Zillah teachers union.
Charbonneau’s main goal is to build students confidence in whatever they want to do, whether or not they want to go into science. Relationships come first, he said, and then the content follows.
If you can make a positive relationship with a student, you can teach them darn near anything, he said on CBS This Morning.
As National Teacher of the Year, Charbonneau said he wants to bring an awareness to the fact that there is so much more right going on in education than there is going wrong.
Plus, he thinks focusing on the positive first will work better.
When students come into my classroom, if theyre dealing with a difficult subject and Im focused only on the negative, then they wouldnt come in the room the next day, he said.
If, as a nation, we focused first on what was going right in education, he said, we would get to where we want to be faster.
His message for President Obama?
Its very similar, he said. Please make sure you look first for the good in teachers. Just like I do for my students.
The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has a video on its web site on Charbonneau and his journey to National Teacher of the Year.