“If you give an opportunity to a student to create, then you are using technology in the right way.” – Jeff Charbonneau, National Teacher of the Year, USA
Jeff Charbonneau has had a pretty spectacular year so far. First, he was named the Washington State Teacher of the Year for 2013. Then just one month ago, Charbonneau was named National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers. He met United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. He shook hands with President Obama. What is that like, for a science teacher who returned to the high school he graduated from in a small town in Washington State? “It’s a little overwhelming,” says Charbonneau. “It’s hard to put into words just how amazing those experiences are. I take a lot of pride in it. But it’s not pride in me. It’s pride in Zillah High School, our district, the Yakima Valley that we live in, and our state. There are so many positive things that are happening here, that there’s no way that I could say that I won this by myself.”
While I agree that great success in our classrooms is certainly a team and community effort, Charbonneau is being a bit modest. He has been called “a whirlwind on mission,” and it’s very evident why when you speak with him. Perhaps most obvious is Charbonneau’s passion for his students. “Student relationships come before content,” says Charbonneau. “If you can stop and realize what a student needs – where they are coming from, what their backgrounds are, where they are academically – if you put that first, you can make much better headway with that student.”
Aside from his dedication to his students, Charbonneau stands out for another big reason: his absolute belief that kids want to be challenged. “Every time I made my classes harder, two things happened: discipline went almost completely away, and more students started signing up for my classes,” says Charbonneau. “They saw a challenge and they saw relevance.” Charbonneau has taken challenging his students so much to heart, that he became an adjunct faculty member at Yakima Valley Community College, Central Washington University, and Eastern Washington University — all to give his students the ability to earn college credit. As of today, Zillah High School offers 69 credits, and they are increasing this to 74 credits next year. Their goal is to make it to 90 college credits offered – which is the amount of credits it takes to earn an Associates of Arts (AA) degree. “Is this just for high achievers?” asks Charbonneau. “Absolutely not. We teach students of all abilities and all backgrounds. Engineering is so different as a subject, that some of the low-achieving students at school are my best students.” Charbonneau and Zillah High School are doing something very right. They have a 98% graduation rate, and most students go on to post-secondary school.
In the next year, life will be changing for Charbonneau. As winner of the National Teacher award, he will be traveling through the United States, Japan and China, serving as a national and international advocate for education. “I really hope I bring back some new strategies – how to approach education,” he says. “I’ve changed quite a bit in my teaching career. I hope I come back changed, and I hope it’s for the better.”
One thing is for sure, we plan to follow Charbonneau throughout the year, and will certainly be checking in with him both during and after his year abroad.
Today, Lauren Woodman, General Manager Worldwide Education Programs, interviews Charbonneau. Here, they talk about the “magic” at this high school of 1300 students, why science in particular has made such a difference in the students’ confidence levels, and why Charbonneau would encourage anyone who thinks they might like to teach to go for it. “I’ve never regretted a single day of teaching,” he says. In fact, he starts each day in his classes by saying, “Welcome to another day in paradise.” And he means it.
I am proud to present today’s Daily Edventure with National Teacher of the Year, Jeff Charbonneau.