Washington State Teacher of the Year

State Teacher of the Year Washington Week or the Life and Times of a Gov Nerd in “the other Washington.”

My view from the front porch of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

My view from the front porch of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Last week I joined my fellow State Teachers of the Year in DC for Washington Week: we met the leader of the free world, 44th President of the United States, and pretty darn handsome man, Barack Obama. We also met six-term senator, one of my favorite living rhetoricians, Vice President of the United States, “Uncle” Joe Biden and his (possibly more impressive) wife Dr. Jill Biden. We also met the Human Reset Button, the walking embodiment of bureaucratic tone change, Secretary of Education, Dr. John King.

Secret Service check heading into the Biden Residence.

Secret Service check heading into the Biden Residence.

On side trips, my wife and I visited the Ford Theater, where the namesake of my school, Abraham Lincoln, was shot by treasonous Confederate (those terms are admittedly redundant), John Wilkes Booth and Arlington National Cemetery. And last week at the invitation of CCSSO, I gave a policy talk on recruiting and retaining effective teachers of color, to members of the Whitehouse Staff and employees from the Department of Education.

In short fam, we had a helluva week in DC.

Policy Briefing to Whitehouse staff and employees of the Department of Education.

Policy Briefing to Whitehouse staff and employees of the Department of Education.

A Bit of a Whirlwind: Each year the 56... 55 (North Dakota just had a baby) State and territorial (DOD, Guam, Marianas Islands, Virgin Islands American Samoa and DC) teachers of the year gather in DC for Washington Week. It is intended to be a celebration of the profession. But recently, it has morphed into something more. The event is turning into a forum, where policymakers and ed groups seek input from practitioners from around the nation (and its territories).

This year we were provided an opportunity to give (often very frank) feedback to several ed organizations (NWEA, Pearson, ETS, Microsoft Education) on their policy platforms and upcoming initiatives in sessions called “Educator Perspective Breakouts.” I often talk about the need to include effective teacher voice in education policy formulation, I applaud those orgs specifically for listening to our collective points-of-view around PD, evaluation and assessment and seeking to create an ongoing dialogue around their work and ours. I don’t think we shifted the trajectory of their already laid plans, but we were invited to a conversation (a start) and we will see where that leads in the longterm.

In the East Room with 2016 Alaska Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners.

In the East Room with 2016 Alaska Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners.

While we were in DC some of the SToYs talked about how they’ve received pushback from colleagues when they’ve raised issues of teacher quality and effectiveness. But, I think Shawn Sheehan, fellow NToY Finalist, and candidate for Oklahoma State Senate, nailed it, and for the sake of my kids I unapologetically co-sign: “those who can’t, definitely shouldn’t teach.” It really is that simple. The work is too important to believe otherwise.

Back to Home and My Reality: Upon returning to the real Washington, I felt physically exhausted, but pedagogically inspired. Within 12 hours of landing, I was back at Lincoln leading our final AP Exam review session to a standing-room crowd of Abes, in preparation for today’s AP Government & Politics exam.

Somewhere over flyover country, masquerading as Jupiter.

Somewhere over flyover country, masquerading as Jupiter.

Within 24 hour hours, Audrey, Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, was proposing a collaborative story telling project to the SToYs. In the same timeframe, Talya from Maine was writing about her experiences in DC. Within 36 hours, I had started house hunting on Redfin, looking to recruit frustrated SToYs from states where they don’t feel as supported to work, teach and live in Tacoma.

DC was surreal at times, but it reminded me of the immediacy of the work we do here at Lincoln and in the South Sound with Teachers United. This work matters: Teachers are loved. Teachers aren’t appreciated. This work is draining. This work is energizing. This work often seems impossible. This work is always essential.

These are the contradictions we live with. 

An Open Letter to My Seniors (About Adulthood and Obligation)

One of the earliest posts on this blog was about teacher absenteeism and how it harms students. Given that, it only seems appropriate that I share how I am asking my students to cope with my upcoming Washington State Teacher of the Year related absences. This is a glimpse inside my head, my classroom and my practice.

Dear AP Government & Politics Scholars,

In teaching there are waypoints--moments throughout the year where we reflect on what is going well and where we can improve or change what’s happening in our rooms and with our classes. Thanksgiving is a major one. We are two and a half months into a nine month marathon of a school year. We have learned so much in gov, but then again we haven’t even scratched the surface. We still have the media, Civil Rights & Civil Liberties and policymaking institutions ahead of us. At this point, you know more about politics than the average American, but we still have miles to go.

As I sit down to start this, it is the Wednesday of Thanksgiving Break. Ms. Teague, Ms. Bockus, Mr. Ruby and Ms. Letourneau and I are all gathered at a cafe to commiserate over our grading and mix some adult company in with the mountains of quizzes and essays that we have to wade through. I am taking a break from grading to share my thoughts with you.

I need your help… well, more accurately, you need to help yourselves. At the beginning of the year, you made a choice to be here. No one has to take AP classes and plenty of kids go to college and do fine without them. You each probably have a friend (or several) that mock(s) you for “always working on Bowling’s homework.” Many of you are taking a hit to your GPA by being in here because of my strict grading policies. You could have taken easier classes, where many of you would’ve earned an A. You chose to be here. You chose to deal with my expectations, pushiness, workload and (occasional) rudeness. That choice is appreciated and honored.

But, sometimes events conspire against us.

As you know, in September I was named the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year. This is a huge honor and an important validation of not just my work, but yours as well, and everything happening here at Lincoln. This is not the Lincoln that existed in the 1990s (when you were born and when I was in high school). It’s a much better place to teach and learn than it was then. With that success has come recognition: a KCTS Golden Apple Award for LC in 2011, back-to-back recognition as one of America’s Most Challenging Schools from the Washington Post, numerous reports in local and national media, and a visit from a Head of State

I pride myself on working hard and being here everyday. I don't think I've ever taken a sick day in ten years of teaching. Sure, I have missed days for conferences, trainings, appointments, etc., but I always try and want to be here for you. However, this year is going to be a departure from the norm and you need you to step up:

  • December 3-4, I will be in Olympia with the Regional Teachers of the Year from around the state for meetings with state level policymakers and a newly formed Washington Teacher Advisory Council that I will serve on.
  • January 5, I will be in Seattle for meetings with groups that want to hear what teachers think about state ed policy (this is our studies about influencing policy, happening in real life).
  • January 20-23, I will be in San Antonio for a convening of the State Teachers of the Year from all 50 states and the US territories.
  • January 28-31, I will be in San Diego participating in a nationwide teaching conference called ECET2.

Honestly, I am pretty unhappy about this. In one eight week period I will miss more days than I have missed in the last three years combined and those are only the dates I know for sure; there will be more. The last week in April, I will go to Washington DC and be recognized along with the other State Teachers of the Year at the Whitehouse (I know crazy, right?). I am also expected to address the state teachers' union gathering in Spokane and the State PTA Convention on dates yet to be determined.

All of this is unfair to you.

There is no other way to put it. It takes me away from what I love to do most (besides eating BBQ and watching soccer). I am doing my best to make sure I have the same substitute(s) on days I am gone. It will either be Ja’wanne who you’ve had or Ms. Schaffer (who was my go to sub when many of you had me freshmen year). We can’t treat these as off days. If there is nonsense in my absence, rather than hustle, we will fall apart. If your expectations for yourselves are low, this will become just another class, rather than the special place (that I think) you all know it is. You need to self-manage. You know our routines by now:

  • I will ask you to come in and thoughtfully discuss the reading.

  • I will ask you to teach each other.

  • I will ask you to lead.

  • Most importantly, I will ask you to be the amazing, emerging intellectuals and scholars that I know each of you are.

Adulthood is dumb sometimes. My reward for being recognized for my teaching is getting pulled from my classroom. But we can’t let that be an excuse. This a glimpse of what’s coming next year--sorry, I am not going to college with you--nor will Erwin, Clausen or the Joneses. Grad assistants at universities aren’t known for their phenomenal pedagogy. You will have to own and earn your learning and paths.

This all may sound cheesy or overwrought, but it’s important to me that I let you know where my head is… I owe you that. We have no time to waste. We must be relentless. We must be accountable to each other and you must be as rad as I know you are. Erwin always says “teaching causes learning.” Our motto for years at Lincoln has been “Lincoln Abes, absolutely better everyday.”

We have to embody those. This year, you will need to walk that talk.

Yours in consistent earnestness and persistent pushiness,

Nathan G. Gibbs-Bowling, Your Teacher