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Erin Marvin, a fourth-grade teacher at Rainier Elementary School, recently won the prestigious University of Washington "Extra Yard for Teachers Award" for her outstanding efforts promoting distance learning at the school.

“So I nominated you for something... have you heard from UW yet???? Did you see the email???” 

The mid-September text message from her friend Megan Baker baffled and intrigued Erin Marvin.

“What would I be getting from UW?” the Rainier Elementary School teacher wondered.

So Marvin scanned her messages and discovered one from the University of Washington, which read in part: “We would like to congratulate you …”

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Erin Marvin, a fourth-grade teacher at Rainier Elementary School, recently won the prestigious University of Washington "Extra Yard for Teachers Award" for her outstanding efforts promoting distance learning at the school.

By the time Marvin had finished the sentence that concluded with “on being recognized as one of our outstanding teachers for your distance learning efforts!” you could have knocked her over with a feather.

Then she started crying.

The fourth-grade teaching wizard had just been saluted by the UW and the College Football Playoff Foundation in its annual “Extra Yard for Teachers Week” celebration as one of only three teachers in Western Washington who won the 2020 award for her “extraordinary” efforts in the classroom.

Baker was thrilled. After all, the Rainier resident had nominated Marvin for the award.

“When I saw the nomination on UW’s page I knew exactly who I would nominate,” Baker wrote to the Nisqually Valley News last week. Baker, 35, had gotten to know Marvin in 2018 when the then kindergarten teacher taught her son Kade.

“Throughout this trying time for students, teachers and parents, Erin worked diligently to make sure her students were taken care of and continued to learn in addition to helping other teachers and staff with the challenges of remote learning and using new technologies,” Baker added. “She has worked tirelessly to try and ensure this was the smoothest possible transition for students and parents.”

Marvin was stunned.

“I had no idea I was nominated for the award in the first place,” she said last week from her empty classroom, her kids’ desks spaced neatly apart as though awaiting their return. “I cried a little when I read the email, because this distance learning has been hard on everybody, and to think that Megan would take the time to nominate me made me feel very special.”

Marvin and the other award recipients would normally have been saluted during a Husky football game, but because of COVID-19 this year’s event was virtual. 

The Sept. 18 Zoom celebration, though, turned out to be lots of fun for the Rainier Elementary awardee as she’d invited a bunch of people to join her in the online festivities.

“It was really neat,” said Marvin, who has been married to husband Benjamin for 17 years and has two children. “I had a lot of family and friends, staff and former students in the celebration.” 

According to the university, the sixth annual Extra Yard for Teachers week ran from Sept. 12-18, and this year’s honor recognized teachers for “their outstanding efforts in diversity and inclusion and distance learning.” The recognition included a $1,200 check and Husky gift basket, to boot. 

Marvin, 39, who in 2016 received her master’s degree in education and teaching from Seattle Pacific University, has been teaching at Rainier Elementary for three years — the first two in the kindergarten classroom. This is her first full-time, staff teaching position.

In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic grounded in-person classroom teaching to a halt, Marvin put on her thinking cap and began experimenting with different options to accommodate remote learning.

“I worked all summer trying to find programs that would make distance learning easier for teachers and students,” Marvin said. “Every teacher I know is doing their best to navigate something that’s never been done before, but I think I have been able to make the process less cumbersome for them.”

Marvin’s dedication and perseverance have impressed her boss, Rainier Elementary School Principal Rita Meldrum.

“Erin is an innovative teacher who constantly is researching best-practice strategies to keep her students engaged in learning,” Meldrum wrote to the NVN. “She also knows that relationship building is the foundation and key to keep students learning and logging in to their devices.  

“She sings and dances online with her students almost every morning during their morning meeting. Erin is a team player and has volunteered countless hours of her own time to provide training for staff. She’s an amazing all-around educator!!”

And when she’s not singing and dancing, Marvin watches closely for clues her teaching is paying off. The moments are, well, amazing.

“It’s that ‘a ha’ moment with the kids when they suddenly understand something,” she explained. “You can see it in their faces, their body language — and you know you’ve done something right.”

As the pandemic drags on, Marvin will strive to continue doing things right — even if it’s all virtual. It goes with her job and reflects her empathy and passion.

“I’ll continue to gain knowledge about online learning and how to give content that the kids will enjoy,” she said. “They are in front of the computer for so long you have to find ways to make it engaging.”

That said, she would like to be engaged in other ways. 

Marvin — the teacher — is lonely.

“I would love nothing more than to see my kids back in the classroom,” she concluded.

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