National Teacher of the Year shares why connections matter in teaching

National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning leads an activity on human connection during her discussion

Mandy Manning’s road to becoming the 2018 National Teacher of the Year wasn’t on purpose. In fact, she described reluctantly coming to teaching after getting degrees in filmmaking and communications. When she did become a teacher, she struggled with confidence and thought of herself as a fraud. Nineteen years later, including seven in her current role, Manning says one thing she’s always done is get to know her students and show interest in who they are. 

“Students need connection more than anything else. They need us to connect with them and believe in them. When we believe in them, they believe in themselves,” Manning told a group of School of Education students.

The talk, sponsored by INSPIRE Living-Learning Center, included stories of Manning’s students at the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington. All are immigrants who come to Manning with varying English abilities. While she has the responsibility to teach her students foundational English, her real job is to help those students transition to living and studying in the United States.

The second half of the lecture included emphasizing the importance of connections through an activity that saw students introduce themselves to someone in the audience they didn’t know well and actively listen to each other. Manning’s point to the activity?

“It doesn’t take very long to connect with another human being, it just takes a moment of individual attention,” she said. “As educators, why is that important? You have to make connections with your students and help them connect with one another.” 

Manning also spoke about recognizing how social groups impact perceptions. While each student comes into the classroom with deficits, she chooses to see what gifts each student brings instead.

“You always have to be doing this work. This is what our kids need. They need a meaningful, caring adult relationship,” she said.

After she finishes her term as National Year of the Year in June, Manning plans to return to her classroom – unless she is elected president of the Washington Education Association.