Mandy Manning, who teaches English and math to immigrant and refugee students at Spokane's Ferris High School, helped change school policies on school suspensions.

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Mandy Manning, a Spokane educator who teaches English and math to immigrant and refugee students and is credited with helping change school policies to significantly decrease school suspensions, has been named the 2018 National Teacher of the Year.

Manning, who was named Washington’s Teacher of the Year in September 2017, was one of four finalists for the top award, which was announced on CBS early Friday morning.

Manning, 42, works in Ferris High School’s Newcomer Center, where immigrant and refugee students spend one or two semesters. She started teaching in Spokane in 2008 after teaching in Texas, New York and Japan, and moved to the Newcomer Center in 2011. Every semester, she has a few dozen students from several different countries.

As National Teacher of the Year, she’ll serve as an advocate and spokeswoman for the teaching profession, going to more than 150 speaking events across the nation and internationally. In an interview a few hours after the announcement, Manning said she was still feeling a bit overwhelmed, but excited to continue advocating for teachers and telling her students’ stories.

“The public needs to know that teachers, every day they come to school, are thinking about their students,” she said. “Because they know the students best, we need to listen to them and include them in education policy, both locally and at the national level.”

At Ferris High, for example,  Manning was involved in changing a discipline plan to include more voices from education and parent groups. In the first year after the change, the number of suspensions decreased by 74 percent.

Manning will get to meet with President Donald Trump this year. She looks forward to telling him about her students, who, she said Friday, faced very difficult circumstances in their home countries but are hopeful, excited and “want to be productive members of society and give back to the country that gave them hope.”

Manning jokes that she never wanted to be a teacher and thought her time as an educator would be limited to her two years in Armenia as a Peace Corps volunteer. But again and again, people told her she should be a teacher.

Her path changed on Sept. 11, 2001. It was the first year she had her own class, and she remembers everyone watching television as chaos unfolded. At the Washington Teacher of the Year ceremony exactly 16 years later, she recounted how that day made her realize the importance of her job.

“I had to help every single one of my students be fearless in the face of something none of us understood,” she said.

Speaking to the audience, she repeated a similar mantra, one that she teaches her students: “Be fearless, be kind, get to know your neighbors.”

Washington’s most recent National Teacher of the Year was Jeff Charbonneau, a science teacher at Zillah High School in Yakima County, who was awarded the title in 2013. This year, the other three finalists were Kara Ball, Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year; Jonathan Juravich, Ohio Teacher of the Year; and Amy T. Anderson, New Jersey Teacher of the Year.