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Tacoma Teacher Hopes Time In The Spotlight Will Also Illuminate The School Where He Teaches

Kyle Stokes
Nate Bowling, right, teaches AP Government at Tacoma's Lincoln High School.

Nate Bowling is running out of space on his awards shelf.

In 2014, the social studies teacher at Lincoln High School in Tacoma won a Milken Award — the "Oscar of Teaching," as one publication put it. Last fall, Bowling became Washington state's Teacher of the Year. Just last week, Bowling was named a finalist for National Teacher of the Year.

But Bowling still walks the halls at Lincoln — a school just a mile-and-a-half from where he grew up, a school in the heart of a neighborhood he hopes to transform — and sees talented teachers working everywhere.

"I look in their windows and I stop in their classrooms and I see stuff and I'm like, 'Man, my kids aren't that focused,' or, 'Man, my kids don't write that well,'" Bowling said. "Teaching is an amazing profession that is sometimes isolating. But when I see other teachers, I steal things all the time. We call it 'teach-lifting.'"

Roughly four out of every five Lincoln High School students receive free or reduced-price meals. But the district reports Lincoln's on-time graduation rate topped 81 percent — up 16 points since 2013.

It may be Bowling's name on an April invitation to a White House ceremony where and three other finalists — a history teacher from Connecticut, a math teacher from Oklahoma and another social studies teacher from California — will learn who is the next Teacher of the Year. But he hopes Lincoln also benefits from the attention he's receiving.

"Here’s the bottom line nobody wants to believe. I’m not the best teacher in this building. This building is filled with amazing educators," Bowling said — even name-dropping a few: Cheryl Bockus, Sara Ketelsen, Lee Ann Love and his wife, Hope Teague.

If he wins, Bowling would spend the year traveling and advocating for the teaching profession.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.