Dimond teacher named finalist for National Teacher of the Year award

A woman gasps as she is handed flowers and a plaque.
Catherine Walker gasps as Acting Education Commissioner Heidi Teshner presents Walker with her 2024 Teacher of the Year plaque. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Dimond High School STEM teacher Cat Walker has been named one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year Award, given out each year by the Council of Chief State School Officers. 

Last spring, Walker was named the Alaska Teacher of the Year during a surprise assembly. Walker learned that she was a finalist for the National Teacher of the Year award in December, but had to keep it a secret. Last week, Dimond Principal Tina Johnson-Harris made the announcement over the loudspeaker to the entire school, keeping Walker’s students in her classroom late so that they could share the moment with her.

“My students just kind of sat there in shock.” Walker said. “It was very different than having the school find out in an empty classroom and I’m so glad I got to experience it with students because they’re who it’s all about. And that’s what I do it for.”

Walker grew up in Alaska and began teaching at Romig Middle School in Anchorage in 2006. Walker currently teaches marine biology, oceanography and vocational education courses to her students at Dimond. 

She’s excited for her students to use remote operated vehicles in the swimming pool as part of a lesson planned for this Thursday. 

“The students will be simulating cleaning up an oil spill, and retrieving objects and navigating through small, small tunnels and simulating careers that they actually could have along the coastline in Alaska,” Walker said. 

Walker’s lesson plans often connect students with businesses in the community through science. Last year, students cleaned over 200 pounds of marine debris from beaches around Whittier as part of the Ocean Guardian program. Students are currently working with a local optometrist to print phone holders for low vision patients to read their own documents. 

“I love teaching students because it’s that moment when they learn a new skill, or they learn how to problem solve, and they develop that growth mindset, and you know that they’re going to be okay,” Walker said.

In 1995, Chiniak’s Elaine Griffin became the only Alaska teacher ever to win the National Teacher of the Year Award. Alaska Native Cultural Charter School teacher Danielle Riha was also named a national finalist for the award in 2019, and Tikigaq first grade teacher Harlee Harvey was named a finalist last year. 

The winner will be announced in April. 

Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at trockey@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8487. Read more about Tim here

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