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Originally published April 22, 2013 at 9:06 PM | Page modified April 23, 2013 at 2:25 PM

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E. Wash. teacher captures national honor

An Eastern Washington science teacher who has built a rigorous curriculum at his small high school is the 2013 National Teacher of the Year.

Seattle Times education reporter

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I am so impressed with his story. It's always a beautiful thing to see someone who is... MORE
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The National Teacher of the Year for 2013 is a high-school teacher from Eastern Washington who exudes enthusiasm about science, his students and the state of public education.

Jeff Charbonneau, 35, from Zillah High School in the Yakima Valley, said Monday there’s too much focus on what’s wrong with public education, and much too little on what’s going right.

His positive attitude may have helped him in the competition for the prestigious post. His selection was announced Monday by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Charbonneau is the fourth Washington teacher to earn the honor since the contest began in 1952. The most recent was Granite Falls music teacher Andrea Peterson in 2007.

He also is the second Washington educator to win national honors this school year. In the fall, Trevor Greene, of Toppenish, Yakima County, was named national high-school principal of the year.

Charbonneau has been teaching in Zillah since he earned his degree at Central Washington University about 12 years ago. Since then, he has become an adjunct faculty member at several colleges so that his Zillah High students can earn college credit by taking his courses in chemistry, physics, engineering and architecture.

He also advises the school’s science club, created a regional robotics competition, runs a hiking-and-backpacking club, is the yearbook adviser, helps build drama sets and serves as co-president of the Zillah teachers union.

He credits his colleagues at Zillah High — the same school he attended as a teenager — with teaching him how to teach well.

“I’m blessed to stand on the shoulders of teachers who I continue to learn from,” Charbonneau said.

“It’s not like I have reached the pinnacle of teaching or anything like that. I’ve come a long way, but I have a long way to go.”

His colleagues praise him as a good high-school student who has grown into an outstanding teacher.

“He has just raised everything we do here at Zillah to a new level,” said assistant principal Rock Winters.

“He’s one of those guys who decides, OK, we need a science club ... and then makes it happen. Then he decides we need to have a robot challenge, and he goes to computer companies and gets everything donated.

“He just takes on thing after thing after thing.”

With Charbonneau away from school Monday, Winters said he had to scramble at a morning assembly to figure out how to work a camera Charbonneau usually sets up.

Charbonneau was in New York City on the set of “CBS This Morning,” the television show where news of his appointment was first made public.

He then boarded a train to Washington, D.C., where he will be honored at the White House on Tuesday along with all the 2013 state Teachers of the Year.

As National Teacher of the Year, he will spend the next academic year traveling as an ambassador for the teaching profession.

Charbonneau says his first goal as a teacher is to establish a good rapport with students. Teaching them a specific subject, he said, comes second.

“If you can make a positive relationship with a student, you can teach them darn near anything,” he said on “CBS This Morning.”

Charbonneau said he plans to spread the word about the great things schools and teachers are doing. He thinks focusing on the positive is more productive.

“When students come into my classroom, if they’re dealing with a difficult subject and I’m focused only on the negative, then they wouldn’t come in the room the next day,” he said.

If, as a nation, we focused first on what is going right in education, he said, “we would get to where we want to be faster.”

His message for President Obama?

“It’s very similar,” he said. “Please make sure you look first for the good in teachers. Just like I do for my students.”

Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or lshaw@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @LShawST

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