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Chemist Is Named Teacher Of The Year

Award: President Obama bestows honor on high school chemistry teacher Jeff Charbonneau at a White House ceremony

by Linda Wang
April 24, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 17

Charbonneau (left) listens to remarks by Obama.
Jeffery Charbonneau, the 2013 Teacher of the Year and President Obama President Obama welcomes the Teachers of the Year to the White House, Washington D.C, America - 23 Apr 2013.
Charbonneau (left) listens to remarks by Obama.

The 2013 National Teacher of the Year is Jeff Charbonneau, a high school chemistry, physics, and engineering teacher at Zillah High School, in Washington state. The award is given by the nonprofit Council of Chief State School Officers.

Charbonneau, joined by other State Teachers of the Year, the group from which he was selected, was honored at a White House Rose Garden ceremony on April 23.

“I cannot think of something more important than reaching that child who maybe came in uninspired, and suddenly, you’ve inspired them,” President Barack Obama said of teaching in his introductory remarks at the ceremony.

Obama praised Charbonneau for dramatically improving the science curriculum at Zillah High School since becoming a teacher there 12 years ago. “Science enrollment is way up. Kids are graduating at college-level science—with college-level science credits. The school expects to have to hire more teachers now to meet the demand,” Obama said.

“It’s a huge honor,” Charbonneau tells C&EN about winning the award. “There’s an awful lot of pride that goes with it, but it’s more pride in the work that teachers are doing across the U.S.”

Charbonneau credits his success to connecting with students on a personal level. “The most important thing in education is building positive relationships with students,” he says. “When I go to school each day, I have the opportunity to be there at the moment of discovery for my students. And when you’re there at that moment, boy, is it an amazing feeling.”

Charbonneau earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in education from Central Washington University.

Although he’s being recognized as an outstanding educator, Charbonneau says he is “not done learning.” When the school year ends in June, he will begin a yearlong journey to speak at schools around the U.S. and abroad. His goal is to “learn from other teachers and other cultures and other societies what they’re doing well in education and how we can bring that back to either the U.S. or maybe even to my hometown.”

He notes that scientists can play an important role in improving science education, for example, by visiting their local schools and serving as guest speakers. “They may be that one spark the student needed to go into that field,” Charbonneau says.



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