Anchorage teacher Danielle Riha was surprised today to learn she was selected as the 2019 Alaska Teacher of the Year.
She was coming back from a lunch with state education representative Bob Williams, under the pretense that it was because she was a nominee for Teacher of the Year. Williams then led Riha to the auditorium of the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School.
“When I knew for sure was when I was coming around the corner and Bob Williams looked at me and said, ‘Are you ready for this?'” Riha said.
The whole school was waiting inside to applaud for her.
Riha teaches middle school at the charter school. She’s taught every subject in her tenure at the school, but is teaching language arts and social studies this year. Riha says she credits the school and staff for creating an environment that allows her to thrive as a teacher.
“This whole school makes me who I am. It’s not just me, and I’m thankful,” Riha said. “I’m really blessed to be in a great learning community.”
Riha also credited students and parents for helping foster a strong learning environment, built on family connection and respect.
“It’s reciprocity, you know,” Riha said. “We just share that mutual respect and admiration for each other, and I think that’s why we are so successful.”
Riha began her teaching career as a substitute in Dutch Harbor before getting her teaching degree and teaching in Togiak and New Stuyahok for seven years. Due to her experience with Alaska Native culture, Riha was recruited in 2008 to help open the charter school in Anchorage and has been a part of the school ever since.
Riha says she tries as hard as she can to keep the traditions of rural Alaska alive in her teachings.
“The most important thing for me to get across is to stand on the shoulders of your ancestors, know where you come from and plan for your future,” Riha said. “And really be involved and engaged in your learning, so that you can have a bright future.”
Riha was one of five nominees this year for Alaska Teacher of the Year. She will serve as Alaska’s nominee for the National Teacher of the Year. Eagle River High School fine arts chair Jacob Bera was selected as the alternate Alaska Teacher of the Year. He will serve as the state Teacher of the Year if Riha is selected as the National Teacher of the Year.
Profiles of Riha, Bera and the other three nominees for Alaska Teacher of the Year are available here.