Lawton teacher Lyon Terry receives his award for Puget Sound Teacher of the Year. Photo courtesy of Lyon Terry
Lawton teacher Lyon Terry receives his award for Puget Sound Teacher of the Year. Photo courtesy of Lyon Terry

Lawton Elementary School teacher Lyon Terry was named the Puget Sound Teacher of the Year by the Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD).

Terry has been teaching at Lawton in Magnolia (4000 27th Ave. W.) for the last eight years. He teaches second, third and fourth grades.

Magnolia parent Annie Krause’s son Peter was in Terry’s class this year. She nominated him for the award because he’s so passionate about his work, which seems to be rare with such experienced teachers, she said.

At the end of this school year, while teachers were wrapping up, Terry organized a field trip where students rode their bikes to the ferry terminal and then took a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island. Those types of engaging field trips were common, Krause said.

Her son Peter loves him. “He says, ‘Mr. Terry totally gets me,’” she said.

Peter has been learning the guitar, an interest Krause attributes to Terry playing the instrument with his students at school.

“He really gets to know his kids, who they are outside the classroom,” she said.

Krause said Terry is a rare combination of passion and experience. Often, more experienced teachers have lost their fire, while newcomers have the passion but no experience.

“Teachers deserve a lot more respect and honor,” she said. “He’s someone I think is doing such a good job. I wanted to show him I respect his effort and enthusiasm. Peter said [the nomination] was such a good idea.”

Community involvement

When Terry tells people that he teaches elementary students, they often respond, “That’s so fun.” What people don’t understand is how much hard work it is, he said.

“That’s kind of part of my challenge: making it look like it’s all fun,” he said. “I like to sing in class, and I like to joke around with my students. The reason I do that is the kids will be more engaged, [and] the reason I want my kids more engaged is so they will learn.”

The most gratifying thing for Terry is seeing his students learn and grow: “I know when I’m going to work, I’m doing something that matters — that means a lot to me.”

One of Terry’s favorite parts of the day is in the morning, right when the bell rings. Before coming into the class, his students line up, shake his hand and say, “Good morning, Mr. Terry.” It teaches them to be nice and respectful, he said.

It’s also a chance for Terry to check in and ask his students about their baseball game or their gymnastics class.

“I think them knowing that I know what they’re involved in, that means a lot to them,” he said. “And I’m not the only teacher that does that. There are lots of teachers who involve themselves in the community like that.”

Terry lives in Magnolia, and both of his two children attended Lawton last year, so he’s able to really get to know the community well. And he’s involved outside of his classroom — that was one of the criteria for the award.

At Lawton, Terry runs the Safety Patrol program, and he created the Walking School Bus program about five years ago. He organizes engaging field trips, such as the trip where his and other classes installed plants in the rain garden in the north parking lot in Discovery Park.

In the district, he’s part of a district-wide group of 25 teachers who created Common Core-based curriculum for Seattle Public Schools (SPS). And in his own classroom, he writes a lot of his own curriculum, which allows him to be creative, flexible and responsive to his students’ needs.

“I feel like [teachers] have to be treated as professionals…, and one way we can be treated as professionals is if we are thoughtful and conscientious about the curriculum we choose and how it’s presented and what we teach,” he said.

Outside of school, Terry coaches and helps out with his kids’ various sports. He’s been a Scout leader for Pack 80 and was on the steering committee for the Magnolia Manor dog park. Sometimes, he’ll watch a couple of innings of a student’s baseball game, just to give them support.

“I feel like it’s important for teachers to be involved in their communities,” he said. “It’s not lost on me: I am extremely fortunate to be able to live in Magnolia. Not all teachers can afford to live in Magnolia and find a job in the community where they want to live.”

This year, Terry helped out with his daughter’s softball team, alongside coach Lisa Bogen. Two of Bogen’s children have had Terry as a teacher. Bogen wrote a letter of recommendation for Terry, citing her children’s experiences and her experience working side-by-side with Terry outside the classroom.

The greatest part about Terry is that he never stops teaching, Bogen said. When he helps with softball, instead of just telling kids to swing a certain way, he’s giving them a lesson about velocity and speed.

“He is always finding a teaching moment in the most ordinary [moment],” she said.

While other teachers can become complacent with experience, Terry is always staying fresh and engaged, Bogen said.

“Schools could use a few more Mr. Terrys,” she said. “Every kid should have a teacher like Mr. Terry in their life...[that is] at that level of professionalism and inspiration and caring — it’s a gift.” 

The ‘face’ of public schools

Terry was flattered by the nomination, but when PSESD surprised him at an all-school assembly to announce that he had won, he felt more humble and reserved. There are lots of “great teachers that I know and that I work with who very easily could have been nominated and selected well above me,” he said.

He’s honored and proud to represent good teaching, but he does feel a little awkward about being held up on a pedestal, he said. Teaching is such a collaborative job, too, he said, with the other teachers in your grade and those below and above you.

“So I feel like, in some ways, this is an award for Lawton,” he said, “for the work we do at Lawton and for the work we do at Seattle Public Schools.”

Terry said he often hears about struggling public schools, but he sees excellent teaching and excellent growth in the students at public schools. “I think that narrative needs to start to change,” he said. “I think our public schools do excellent work.”

In September, Terry and the other regional winners from the state will meet at the state superintendent’s office and interview for the selection of the Washington state Teacher of the Year award.

The 2013 state winner was Jeff Charbonneau from Zillah High School in Yakima, Wash. who went on to win the national award. “So that’s a hard act to follow this year,” Terry said.

“But it’s important to me that there are good teachers in public schools,” Terry said of the award. So I’m happy to be the face of that.”

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