“He is an advocate not only for the student learner, but he also supports and mentors his colleagues so they can be effective advocates for their students and for themselves,” said NCCE president David Walddon.
North Thurston principal Steve Rood described Coker as “a mover and shaker” who is responsible for bringing more computers into the school’s library and getting students and staff connected with the latest technology.
“He’s done phenomenal work in this role this year,” Rood said.
The Olympian talked to Coker about the award and his career. Here are excerpts of the conversation:
Question: Tell us a little about yourself and your family.
Answer: I grew up in rural Thurston County. I went to South Bay Elementary School, Chinook Middle School and North Thurston High School, where I graduated in 1985.
My wife, Gretchen, is a science and mathematics teacher at Chinook. We have two children. Ian is a third grader at South Bay, and Emerson is a kindergartner at Capital Montessori School. He’ll go to South Bay next year.
My mother is a retired school counselor with North Thurston Public Schools. My father is a retired orthopedic surgeon. He practiced in Olympia until 1994.
Q: What is your college education?
A: I graduated from The Evergreen State College in 1989 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a focus in literature and history. I earned a second B.A. in education at Western in 1992. I completed a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Washington in 2006.
Q: How long have you been teaching?
A: I think this is my 21st year. This is my first year back at North Thurston. I taught English here five years ago for a year.
Before returning to North Thurston, I was teacher-librarian at Rainier High School for four years.
Q: Tell us about the award.
A: It really generated with my work through the Washington Library Media Association. This year, I am the immediate past president. I’ve been involved at the state level with the organization on a wide variety of advocacy initiatives, and initiatives with the state Legislature.
Q: How did you get into teaching and technology?
A: I had always been interested in teaching. For most of my 20s, I was in Seattle. I worked abroad. I taught in Argentina and South America for a couple of years.
It never even entered my mind to be a teacher-librarian, but it all kind of started when I was in South America. It was a real epiphany: In 1995, I had the opportunity to use the Internet. We organized an exchange between students in Argentina and kids in Seattle at a school where a friend was teaching. That was my first experience of becoming the “technology guy” in education.
I convinced the owners of the school (in Argentina) to buy a computer and allow students to access the Internet. The following year, I came back to visit and was tasked with building a small library at the school. The next year, we built a computer lab and began teaching technology classes.
I worked in Hoquiam for a couple of years and was influenced by Dan Descher, a (now-retired) math teacher and the district’s technology coordinator, and Mike Williams, who is technology director for the Aberdeen School District. We got some grants, and from there it kind of snowballed because the teachers began to see me as a problem-solver.
A colleague gave me a brochure about the University of Washington’s Master of Library and Information Science program. It all became completely clear — this is me, it incorporates everything I like to do: teaching, information literacy and information management. Obviously, I’m still working with literature and books and getting kids excited about reading, too.
Q: What was your reaction to receiving the NCCE’s President’s Award?
A: I was surprised. It’s one of those things you don’t really plan on. And by no means had I ever planned on getting involved in leadership at the state level.
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: Right now, besides spending my time with family, we like to travel when we can and go outside and go hiking. We like to ski.
I’ve been training to climb Mount Rainier on July 3. I read a lot, too.
Q: What brought you back to the South Sound?
A: Family connections and support — the opportunity to come home. We really liked the idea of having family around our kids as they’re growing up.
Q: What do you like about your job?
A: The aspect I like the most is that it changes constantly. I never know exactly what’s going to happen. My days just absolutely fly by. It’s constant interruptions, but that’s good because that’s the nature of the job. Most of what we spend our time working on is information. I get to work on a continual basis with high school students, which I love, but I also get to work with the adults.