Spotlight: Ryan Lafferty (WA '15)March 14, 2016
Stressful: That's how physics teacher Ryan Lafferty (WA '15) describes his first year of teaching. His students pulled him through it: "They were always there to encourage me, and their faith in me gave me the strength to carry on." Lafferty received his Milken Educator Award at International School in Bellevue on January 7, 2016.
Milken Family Foundation: How did you end up in education?
Ryan Lafferty: I am not sure that I always wanted to be a teacher. According to my parents, they knew in high school when they saw me teaching my friends. I first became interested in teaching while I was studying physics in college. As an undergrad I had the opportunity to be an assistant lecturer as well as a tutorial instructor. I loved teaching those courses, and I have been hooked ever since.
MFF: What was your first job?
Ryan: My first "real" job was working at KFC. It was terrible. I learned very quickly that I never wanted to work at a fast food chain ever again. Dealing with hostile consumers was never fun. If I carried one thing forward, it would probably be patience.
MFF: Who was your most memorable teacher?
Ryan: Katherine, one of my professors in my master's degree program. She once told me to never teach a lesson that I wouldn't want to sit through myself. That has stuck with me and has helped guide my work. She loved her job, and it was obvious in the way she carried herself in class.
MFF: Tell us about your first class.
Ryan: The hardest thing about my first year teaching was managing my nerves during my formal evaluations. Overall, my evaluations were very positive; however, I had one bad evaluation and I was scared that I was going to lose my job. Additionally, my wife was pregnant, due at the end of the year. It was a very stressful time in my life. What kept me going was the students. They were always there to encourage me, and their faith in me gave me the strength to carry on.
MFF: A student is thinking about a career in education. What do you say?
Ryan: I love my job. I look forward to teaching physics every day, and I am sad when I have to miss work. What other job would allow me to stand outside and shoot bows for a living? I really am blessed to have found a job that I love.
MFF: What impact do you think your Milken Educator Award presentation had on students at your school?
Ryan: My students tell me that it was very entertaining. They loved seeing how awkward I was while receiving the Award. They don't often think about what it takes to run a lesson in a room — they only see the outcome. I think the Award helped them understand what it takes to be an education professional, and maybe it inspired a few of them.
MFF: What's your favorite time of the school day?
Ryan: Anytime when I am teaching and interacting with my students.
MFF: If someone gave you a million dollars for your school, what would you do with it?
Ryan: Our school is quite old (it's a converted middle school) and is in desperate need of a remodel. I would update the classrooms, and maybe buy the staff a nice lunch.
MFF: When you retire (someday), what do you want your former students and colleagues to say about you?
Ryan: I hope my students remember particular experiences in my class that made them smile.
MFF: If you hadn't chosen a career in education, what would you be doing right now?
Ryan: I enjoy technology and video game design. If I wasn't working as a teacher I would be spending more time designing video games. I like the creative nature of the work.
MFF: Finish this sentence: "I know I'm succeeding as an educator when..."
Ryan: "...my students and I are having fun."
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