FAIRBANKS — Spending time in the classroom learning and teaching is more than a habit for the newly named Alaska Teacher of the Year, Lathrop High School math teacher Christopher Benshoof, it’s his natural habitat.
Ever since he was a youngster attending Fairbanks schools, the lifelong Alaskan loved school.
Looking back, he said, “I’ve had some absolutely phenomenal teachers, lots of them, and they were all very kind,” he said. “I can’t believe how lucky I was.”
In his fifth year of teaching, Benshoof was nominated for the state honor by the school district.
It fell on Benshoof to provide videos of his classroom teaching, essays on the current state of education, a presentation and to be interviewed by a six-member panel of judges.
So it was a surprise, he said, when his name was announced Sunday at the weekend conference of the Alaska Association of School Boards, since the four other finalists had 20 years or more teaching experience.
“I’m thrilled,” he said. “This is humbling and a real honor, when there are lots of teachers across the state, thousands of them, working hard to provide kids with an education.”
In addition to teaching math, statistics and computer science, Benshoof is known for his 11-year, uninterrupted tenure as coach of the Lathrop High School academic decathlon team, which he led to win the Alaska state championship six times.
In 2009, the Lathrop team placed fourth in the national competition held in Texas, Benshoof said. “There was some pretty stiff competition.
The academic decathlon has been part of Benshoof’s life since he was a team member in his junior and senior years at Lathrop.
After graduation and as a full-time student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Benshoof always found time to spend coaching students for the academic decathlon.
“Personally, I really like learning as much as possible and in as many disciplines as possible,” explained. “The (academic decathlon) curriculum changes every year and it gives me the opportunity to learn new things.”
As a teacher, Benshoof said, he enjoys getting to know kids who have a love of learning and who think in different ways, which is helpful in his teaching role.
“The academic decathlon is an opportunity for everyone to stretch and grow in different ways,” he said.
Benshoof estimates he puts in nine to 10 hours per week in coaching duties during the first semester, and 20 to 30 extra hours during the second semester.
“The extra duty pay covers the pizza for the year,” he joked.
In addition, Benshoof has puts in after hours coaching without any stipend for students studying for AP exams that if passed, earn them college credits.
Benshoof said he likes to bring an enthusiasm and atmosphere for learning and genuine inquiry into the classroom “to get my student to learn as much as possible and enjoy learning.”
He does that he said, by giving his students activities, experiences and assignments in the classroom that give them as much pleasure in math and learning about the world as he has.
Benshoof’s inspiration for inspiring students, he said, comes from his previous teacher role models, like now retired Weller Elementary teacher, Stephanie Rudig; Morgan Gray at Tanana Middle school, and high school teachers, Susan Stitham, Larry Ehnert and Wendy Ehnert.
“I stuck with education,” he said, “because I wanted to provide that opportunity to the next generation of kids.”
Benshoof earned a bachelor and master’s degree in math at UAF and is finishing up a second master’s in economics, and is planning to begin a doctorate program in the near future.
In his spare time, the 29-year-old enjoys, camping, running, cross-country skiing and curling.
As Alaska Teacher of the Year, Benshoof will represent Alaska as a nominee for the national teacher of the year, receive technology for Lathrop High, award a college scholarship to a student, receive a scholarship for an advanced degree, and attend an international space camp.
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.