Catherine Walker planned to be a surgeon. She took pre-med classes, interned with a surgeon and was an EMT in college. But after two years teaching in the Peace Corps in Mali, she was hooked.
Now, nearly two decades later, the science teacher at Anchorage’s Dimond High School is Alaska’s 2024 Teacher of the Year. The state honor makes her a candidate for the national Teacher of the Year.
“This is my 17th year—and it’s my best year yet,” Walker said. “I’m just really excited, really happy to be able to make a bigger impact outside of the classroom and to advocate for all Alaskan students and teachers.”
She said she wants to use her new platform to promote the connection between students, careers and community. She said her goal as an educator is to bring the community into the classroom and show students the options they have after school.
“I think it’s really important for our community. We have a mass exodus of students from Alaska — I think because they don’t know the possibilities here,” she said.
Walker said she knows how the honor opens up opportunities to advocate for the state’s students: Her husband, Ben Walker, was the 2018 Teacher of the Year.
“I know that I’ll be able to build this amazing network of teachers all across the country, and I’ll be able to promote Alaska and do my best for Alaskan students and teachers,” she said.
Walker was nominated by her students, colleagues and administrators at Dimond High School, as well as community members, for the honor. Walker teaches an unmanned aviation course, oceanography, marine biology and engineering essentials. In addition to teaching, she coaches students for Battle of the Books, and is a sponsor for the school’s Ocean Science Bowl team.
“Her dedication to teaching is an inspiration to all and her students are lucky to have her as a teacher,” said Heidi Teshner, DEED’s acting commissioner, in a news release. Teshner praised her ability to kindle students’ interest in the sciences and engage them in work that will serve them after graduation.
Walker grew up in Alaska and got her master’s as a science instructor from the University of Alaska Anchorage after studying biology in Massachusetts.
Walker was selected from among four finalists. The three runners-up are Jennifer Reinhart, from Paul Banks Elementary in Homer; Megan Henry, from West High School in Anchorage; and Michelle Heminger, from Barnett Magnet School in Fairbanks.
Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.