By Kandi Carper ’05
UPDATE APRIL 20, 2018: It was announced today that Manning is THE NATIONAL TEACHER OF THE YEAR! Check out this CBS News announcement.
National Finalist for 2018 Teacher of the Year
Sometimes, it takes a while to find your calling. At 42, Mandy Manning had sampled several different careers until she realized teaching was what she was meant to do. It’s safe to say that she’s found her niche.
Since earning her degree in radio/TV in 1998, Manning has been a producer, coached Special Olympics, joined the Peace Corps, worked at a title company and various TV stations, taught theatre, debate, English, video production, and English language development.
She’s lived in Spokane, Olympia, Shelton, Portland, California, various parts of Texas, the Bronx, Japan and Armenia – not in that order.
“I moved around a lot, but I’ve been back in Spokane since 2008,” said Manning. “I’m married now and have a child, so we’re pretty committed to the area. I love it here.”
In September 2017, Manning was recognized as Washington state’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, awarded through the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
It was announced in January 2018, that Manning is one of only four national finalists selected from a pool of 56 to be considered for the top honor. She (and winners from each state and U.S. territories) is invited to the White House in April, where officials will announce the 2018 National Teacher of the Year.
Manning teaches in Spokane Public Schools’ Newcomer Center at Ferris High School. The current students in Manning’s classroom resemble a mini United Nations. They come from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Mexico, Sudan, Thailand, Tanzania and Chuuk. Many were brought to Spokane as refugees through World Relief Spokane and Lutheran Family Services.
The Center is where non-English-speaking teens, who don’t have a high school diploma from their home country, study English language development, reading, mathematics and computers.
“The Newcomer Center is a very safe environment for the students to start their academic life in the United States,” said Manning. “It’s a very family-oriented place. After going through the program, they are more confident – they’re familiar with how a high school runs.”
On a typical morning in Manning’s classroom students write in their journals and prepare to write on the board about yesterday’s weather, and how they feel about the math quiz they took the day before. They learn their ABCs, how to read, to write and they also learn about the Cartesian graph.
“They are excited to go to school every day and have a set schedule, to have things provided that maybe they didn’t have provided before,” said Manning. “A lot of them come here experiencing things that are really traumatic. So, depending on their situation before, they are here and even though life in the United States can be hard, it’s a different kind of hard.”
After the students finish one or two semesters at the center, they’ll move on to attend their neighborhood high school.
To help encourage her students’ success at the Newcomer Center, Manning builds personal relationships with the families. She visits their homes and gets to know the parents, siblings and other family members.
“I want the parents to feel like they are part of our school community, too, and that we are not two separate entities, but that we are working together as partners on behalf of their kids. Plus, they’re coming from terrible experiences, and I want them to know me so they know their kids are cared for, safe and loved.”
Manning’s journey to become an educator took many detours along the way. She never planned to be a teacher. She wanted to be a screenwriter. She continues to write. Horror is her favorite genre. She’s the writers’ club advisor at Ferris.
Reading is her chosen pastime. She reads mostly horror and young adult authors. John Green and Andrew Smith are among her favorites. “They are so courageous. They tackle issues that our students face every day,” said Manning.
Understanding what it means to be a successful teacher – a professional – and how to explain it took Manning a while to figure out, she admits.
“There’s a reason that throughout my life, people have pushed me toward education, and that’s because I really do impact my kids. It wasn’t until 2014 that I really decided to identify as a teacher. I know that sounds crazy because 2014 isn’t that long ago.”
Manning explained that completing National Board certification was transformative for her. It helped her see herself as a teacher, as a professional, and to be proud of her accomplishments.
“It’s not about being a perfect teacher, it’s about showing who you are as an educator and being able to reflect on why you do something,” said Manning. “It helped me own it. Before, I had always just handed over any of my successes to someone else. It was never me. It wasn’t anything I did. It was my kids, or the subject, or whatever. Doing National Boards helped me see my role in the growth my students were experiencing. That helped me be confident to know that yes, maybe I fell into teaching, maybe it fell into my lap, but there was a reason that happened.”
This year Manning will temporarily give up lesson plans and grading. Her main job will be visiting Educational Service Districts throughout the state and talking with anyone who wants to listen to her as Teacher of the Year.
Manning’s message to her audiences: “Get to know people and experience things outside what you already know. My kids are so fearless. They are resilient and hopeful, and they don’t always have a reason to be. In our country right now, there is a great deal of hate, distrust and fear. We need to provide our young people opportunities to experience new things and meet new people. We need to encourage them not to fear what’s different, but to learn about it, because it’s probably not as scary as it might appear. Get out there as teachers, as parents and community members and leaders. We need to encourage our kids to be like that. Not to hide, but to explore.”