Today, 41-year-old Anchorage teacher Ben Walker was selected as the 2018 Alaska Teacher of the Year. Walker is a 7th grade science teacher at Romig Middle School and was granted the honor at a surprise assembly in the school gymnasium.
Walker was one of four teachers from across the state who were finalists for the award. He was just back from breakfast with Bob Williams, the Director of Educator and School Excellence with the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, when he found out.
“I was fairly surprised. I mean, nobody gave me any hints,” Walker said. “Bob told me that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to wear a suit today. But that’s all he said.”
Staff and students were waiting in the gym to celebrate Walker’s accomplishment. So was a lot of his immediate and extended family. Deena Paramo, the superintendent of the Anchorage School District, made the announcement.
“Alaska has over 8,000 teachers and only one was the teacher of the year, and that is your teacher from Romig,” Paramo announced to cheers from the students.
Walker was nominated by his colleagues and community. Romig Middle School principal Carrie Sumner said Walker deserved the award for inspiring his students with hands-on learning and experience. She also praised his character.
“He takes the time to get to know you as people. He actually cares about what’s going on with you,” Sumner said at the assembly. “And he makes those connections. And he does that… (as) part of his nature. It’s not like he’s faking it ’til he makes it. That’s who he is as a person, making those connections with all of us.”
Walker grew up in Ketchikan and graduated from Whitman College in Wallawalla, Washington. He got his Master’s degree in teaching from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Walker has taught science at Romig for 12 years in the same classroom and said he doesn’t plan on moving from it.
His wife teaches science as did his mom — in the same classroom where Walker teaches now. Walker said he learned a lot about his mom from teaching at Romig.
“You know, I think as adults we realize the things that our parents do when we were younger that we had no clue on, which is for my mother, a fantastic teaching career,” Walker said. “So I think being here… and a lot of the people that she knew as teachers, some of the younger ones, were still around when I started teaching so I met them and they always had fabulous things to say say it’s kinda nice to learn that about your parents.”
After all of the hoopla of the ceremony, Walker went right back to that classroom to teach. This week, they’re learning about taxonomy and animals. Walker said he never tires of teaching science.
“I feel it’s the most fun subject but that’s just me,” Walker said. “It’s all about the same. It’s fun to do physics because we get to smash things. But it’s fun to do anything, like we just did with microorganisms with kids not even knowing they existed really, or what they looked like. And being able to have them discover that.”
And Walker’s students certainly appreciate his passion.
“He’s awesome. He’s the best science teacher ever. Yeah he really is,” his students said of him.
“I will tell you, they will tell you I’m the best 7th grade science teacher they’ve ever had,” Walker said, jokingly. They agreed.
Walker is now Alaska’s nominee for the 2018 National Teacher of the Year which will be decided next spring.