06-16-12: Edgerton teacher's enthusiasm equates to student success
06-16-12: Edgerton teacher's enthusiasm equates to student success

On opening day of baseball season, Buddy Keller did what he does best during a morning classroom reading lesson.

With a circle of second graders seated on the floor around him, Keller shared excerpts about Seattle Mariners baseball legends, directed students to colorful photos of the players in action, and made the information come alive.

As he described former pitcher Randy Johnson, for example, Keller challenged students to think about how tall someone is if they are 6’10”.

After several guesses, a student pointed to the classroom word wall, which extended from the floor to just below the ceiling. A chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ ensued when Keller confirmed that the word wall is almost the same height as “The Big Unit.”

Hands also shot in the air when Keller asked if any of the students had heard of veteran Mariners rightfielder Ichiro Suzuki. While they knew his name, none could identify the country he came from. That was just the opening Keller needed to present a brief geography lesson about Japan.

“He puts enthusiasm and emotion into everything he does,” said Patti Perkins, a weekly volunteer whose grandson is a student in Keller’s class.

Keller’s work as a second-grade teacher, including his contributions to both students and staff, has earned him this year’s Puyallup School District Elementary Teacher of the Year award.

His name will be submitted to the Puget Sound Educational Service District to be considered for the regional Teacher of the Year award, which is expected to be announced in August. Those who win at the regional level are considered for the 2013 Washington State Teacher of the Year award.

Keller came to Edgerton Elementary when the school opened in 2007. Before that, he taught one year at Zeiger Elementary.

“Buddy is a phenomenal teacher and teammate,” Edgerton Elementary Office Manager Trish Capocy wrote in a letter nominating Keller for Teacher of the Year. “His outgoing personality, his professional demeanor, and his genuine care for children make him very successful at what he does.”

Principal Liz Knox describes the 2007 Central Washington University graduate as an exemplary young teacher with a “can-do attitude.” He has become well known at school and in the district, she said, as the go-to person for all questions about technology.

Keller has developed math lessons for interactive classroom digital white boards known as “SMART Boards” and shares those lessons with second-grade teachers across the district. In January, he presented a districtwide training about SMART Board use, which Knox said received “rave reviews.”

He also is a member of the school’s Comprehensive School Improvement Plan committee and helps on several districtwide committees. He works with a cadre of second-grade teachers studying math learning, for example, and another that is examining how reading and social studies curricula comply with the state’s learning standards.

In his classroom Keller clearly identifies daily learning goals by posting them on a front wall and surrounding them with a string of white lights.

“Buddy’s enthusiasm, knowledge, willingness to learn, and caring ways shine through every second of every day,” Knox said during the Puyallup School Board’s Teacher of the Year recognition at the April 23 board meeting. “He is truly an outstanding educator.”

Knox also praised Keller for being a willing participant in events that support Edgerton Elementary and its community.
Keller coordinates a weekly tetherball tournament, for example, for first and second graders at recess. Winners get their photos taken and displayed on a school poster.

He also advises Edgerton Elementary School’s closed-circuit television club and leads students in creating weekly school broadcasts.

It’s not uncommon, Knox said, to see Keller sporting a beard during the school’s annual “Beard Fest” to raise money for the local food bank and cancer research.

“This isn’t a job to me,” Keller said. “My class is like a family, and we have fun together. I guess you could say I’m a big kid at heart who loves to play games and get students motivated to learn.”

When students transition between subjects in class, they are invited to sing along with or hum to the Toy Story movie theme song, “You’ve Got a Friend In Me,” which Keller turns up on music speakers.

Students also participate each year in a Reader’s Theatre class play. Keller assigns each student a part in the play, which they perform on the school stage for their families at the end of the year. Through the process, students learn how to read scripts, how to work as a team, and how to be confident and project their voices in front of an audience.

Keller’s goal, he said, is to know every student before they come into his class and to continue to check on them as they advance through sixth grade. He visits first-grade classes several times each year and routinely stops by sixth-grade classes to check on former students.

Education runs deep in Keller’s family. His mother has been a teacher for 30 years and works at a middle school in Tacoma. His sister also teaches at a Tacoma middle school, and his aunt is an English teacher at Tacoma Community College.

His family joined him at the school board’s Teacher of the Year recognition, along with many of his students and their parents who lined the back of the room with colorful balloons in hand.

During his brief remarks to the board, Keller turned, motioned to the students and their families, and said, “This is why I teach, right here.