Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, who teaches at Lincoln High, is one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year.

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As a student, the main thing Nathan Gibbs-Bowling thought about school was how to get out of it. He was the kid in the corner, the one doing just enough to get by.

On Tuesday, any remaining wish for anonymity vanished. Gibbs-Bowling, an Advanced Placement government teacher at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, was named one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year.

Next step: Washington, D.C., where Gibbs-Bowling will have a brief meeting with the President Obama amid a series of interviews for the high-visibility position.

“The students are like, we study the president, can we get Barack in here? I bring in lots of outside speakers for my class, so I’m going to make that push.”

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Recognition for Gibbs-Bowling — a man colleagues describe as a cross between a cheerleader, college professor and drill sergeant — has been on the upswing since 2014, when he won the Milken Educator Award. In September, he was named Washington state’s teacher of the year.

In Gibbs-Bowling’s classroom, some of the lowest-income students in the region debate famous Supreme Court cases and search for personal connections to current events, including the history of their hometown.

Gibbs-Bowling, who has been teaching for 10 years, anchors his approach in exploring ideas rather than marshaling facts. “So instead of my kids knowing each of the Articles of Confederation, for example, it’s about understanding what the Articles are based off of,” he told The Seattle Times in 2014.

Lincoln High Principal Patrick Erwin said he had never seen a teacher so committed to student success.

Gibbs-Bowling, a Tacoma native, mentors students through the College Success Foundation and recently helped organize a tour to visit and support Lincoln graduates now in college. “He makes those around him better and improves the quality of the entire school,” Erwin said.

The other finalists for National Teacher of the Year include a high-school history teacher from Connecticut, a high-school social-studies teacher from California, and a high-school algebra teacher from Oklahoma.

The award is conferred by the Council of Chief State School Officers and presented by Voya Financial. Obama will announce the winner at a White House ceremony in April.

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