Local educator's journey as National Teacher of the Year

Local educator's journey as National Teacher of the Year
ZILLAH, Wash. -- Hundreds of thousands of miles in the air to deliver one thing: a better education. That's been the mission of Zillah High School teacher Jeff Charbonneau during his term as National Teacher of the Year.

Almost a year on the road has turned this teacher into a student again in some ways. Charbonneau has traveled across the country and internationally as an education ambassador. He’s been on trips to big conferences, universities and training workshops.

It's hard to believe how fast time flies.

"I've racked up over 290,000 frequent-flyer miles," said Charbonneau.

Jeff Charbonneau has been to 32 states, as well as China and Japan. Two countries, he said, that are extremely different from us, but still have plenty in common when it comes to the classroom.

"As different as we are around the United States and as different as we are around the world, we're really the same,” said Charbonneau. “Kids that I saw in China in classes, some of them were still trying to put their heads down and sleep."

Charbonneau tries to reach every student. While he pushes for high achievement, the teacher said education can't feel like punishment.

"I teach chemistry, physics and engineering,” said Charbonneau. “Straight up, my classes are hard. When a student walks in, if I tell them everything they're doing wrong on an assignment, they won't come back the next day."

Charbonneau said students must be expected to excel in the Yakima Valley. One way to get them there, he says, is to have more hands-on classes. He plans to push for that, while also asking different districts to share resources. That could mean field trips for students to schools with equipment their schools lack. He said it's the kind of test educators must pass.

And, even he was tested overseas in ways he never expected.

"I made a deal with the people that were taking me around. I said, 'I will eat anything that you put in front of me, as long as I see you eat it first and you don't tell me what it is until after I've swallowed,'" said Charbonneau.

Charbonneau will back in the classroom at Zillah High School again this fall. He will be done traveling as the teacher of the year at the end of May.