Ryan Lafferty, a physics teachers at Bellevue’s International School, said winning one of this year’s national Milken Educator awards will help him with a down payment on a house.
Ryan Lafferty felt a sense of dread when he learned Thursday morning that a teacher at Bellevue’s International School would be receiving a national teaching award. The physics teacher doesn’t like attention.
But as speakers added zeros to the amount of money the winner would receive, he started to perk up. As it increased from $250, then $2,500 and, finally, $25,000, he started hoping his name would be called.
Surrounded by International School students and staff, as well as city and education officials, Lafferty was named the winner of the Milken Educator Award, which recognizes top educators around the nation.
Lafferty, 35, is one of 40 educators to win the award this year, and the only one in Washington.
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“I’m going to start crying!” Lafferty said right after his name was announced. “There are so many great teachers here. I don’t deserve this over them.”
The award was a surprise at an assembly that almost everyone thought was going to feature state Superintendent Randy Dorn talking about the importance of globalism in learning. After a half-hour buildup, Milken Family Foundation senior vice president Jane Foley called Lafferty’s name.
Lafferty’s students weren’t surprised he won.
“He embodies the perfect teacher,” said senior Peter Hamilton, 18, who is in Lafferty’s Advanced Placement Physics II class. “He’s that uncle you really like, who is cool and teaches you things.”
Senior Andrew Dana, 17, recalled a day when the class average on a test was 60 percent. Lafferty wasn’t mad, but the students knew he was disappointed.
“We’ve never seen him angry,” he said.
Lafferty, who has taught at International School for six years, said the smaller size of the school — about 560 students in grades 6 through 12 — lets students and teachers form closer relationships. He runs regular meetings with students to find out what they think is working in his class and what isn’t.
“If it’s not engaging, it’s not worth doing,” he said.
His physics classes are project-based, and students know they can meet with him outside their class time to talk about school work, or any other subject.
Lafferty, who grew up in Redmond, graduated from the University of Washington in 2008 and received a master’s degree in teaching from Seattle University in 2010.
As for the $25,000 unrestricted prize? That will likely go toward a down payment on a house, he said. He and his wife have been saving up.
“This will definitely help,” he said, right before calling his wife to tell her the news.