Innovative, Creative and Inspiring: National Teacher of the Year
August 27th, 2013 by Gail Clark

Jeff Charbonneau’s world changed dramatically after he was named 2013 National Teacher of the Year last April. For the next year, he will be on the road talking to teachers around the globe, hoping to inspire and be inspired by other educators.

“I want to share my message about what has worked for me and learn from others,” says Jeff. “I don’t have all the secrets, so let’s coordinate our efforts. I want to learn new ideas and concepts that I can share with my colleagues.”

“Welcome back to another day in paradise” is Jeff’s daily greeting to his students at Zillah High School in the small town of Zillah, Washington.

Jeff Charbonneau teaches chemistry, science, and engineering at Zillah High School in Zillah, Washington. His classroom walls are covered with letters and photos from former students.    Photo by David Goehner, Educational Service District 105

Jeff Charbonneau teaches chemistry, science, and engineering at Zillah High School in Zillah, Washington. His classroom walls are covered with letters and photos from former students.
Photo by David Goehner, Educational Service District 105

Jeff’s definition of “paradise” requires dedication, commitment and a positive attitude. He sets high standards, working to build each student’s self-confidence and knowledge to meet the challenge. As a result, an increasing number of students are willing to take his chemistry, science and engineering classes.

“Students hear the words ‘quantum mechanics’ and instantly think ‘too hard’ and ‘no way,’” says Jeff.  “It is my job to convince them that they are smart enough and that they can do anything. I want to ignite their sense of discovery and love of learning.”

Raised in rural Washington, Jeff is the first member of his family to graduate from college. Along the way, he married his high school sweetheart, Monika. They met at Zillah High School and both attended Central Washington University. Now, 13 years later, they have two children and make their home in Zillah.

“I was on a path to be a doctor,” remembers Jeff. “While in college, I was volunteering at a hospital and helping in a high school alternative program tutoring biology to five boys. I saw a new world open up to those boys and began to think more about my next tutoring session and less about medicine. I changed majors.”

Today, the walls of Jeff’s classroom are filled with letters and photos from former students. They give testament to his positive influence and teaching abilities.
“I’ve kept every letter and photo since I started here 12 years ago,” says Jeff. “I feel a connection with my students.”

Jeff works beyond his classroom walls to instill a schoolwide culture of excellence and belonging. He is assistant director of the drama program, science club adviser and yearbook adviser. He created a robotics competition and a hiking, backpacking and ecology program. He also has built partnerships with nearby community colleges and universities so students can earn college credits when taking his classes.

Besides being a respected educator with well-deserved awards and accolades, Jeff considers himself to still be a student of the world. His eyes are wide open for discoveries and he always has a sense of wonder about the things around him.

“The most important part of my work is to help each student build confidence in themselves and their abilities,” says Jeff. “My greatest reward is seeing positive responses from my students. At the end of the day, I know I’m making a difference.”