Jay Bennett and John Condon are named Teachers of the Year

Making a positive difference

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“Kids don’t care what I know until they know I care.”This tagline is included at the end of every e-mail John Condon sends out.

“I have always had a challenge for myself to build that trusting relationship with classroom kids on an individual basis,” said Condon, who teaches seventh-grade at Skyridge Middle School.

This approach is, in part, why Condon was named Teacher of the Year by the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce. He is joined by Washougal High School physics teacher Jay Bennett, who one parent described as, “communicating in a style that draws his students in and makes them want to learn the material, even to the point of reteaching it to their families at home.”

The chamber will host a banquet for Condon and Bennett Tuesday, June 5, along with the Citizen of the Year and Business of the Year. Both educators were given the news by their superintendents, who walked into the classroom, unannounced.

In Camas, Superintendent Mike Nerland casually strolled into Condon’s class and began asking the kids what they thought of their science teacher.

“I was very surprised and humbled, but also felt very appreciated,” he said.

In Washougal, Superintendent Dawn Tarzian walked into Bennett’s classroom carrying a bouquet of flowers.

“It kind of threw me off a little,” Bennett said. “I was stunned. But it also felt really good to be recognized.”

Bennett, 42, has been a teacher for 13 years, 12 of those in Washougal.

“I really like getting kids to understand things they didn’t know they would understand,” he said. “Physics takes time and thought, and it is great seeing kids believe that they can get it. It’s what keeps me coming back.”

He said that being named Teacher of the Year is an honor he shares with his co-workers.

“All of the things I’ve learned and do are because of my interaction with fellow teachers,” he said. “I am who they made me and vice versa.”

Bennett was instrumental in starting Panther Time, a 30-minute block of time set aside daily, aimed at providing struggling students with the opportunity to get help in different subject areas. Students who do not have any Ds or Fs in their classes can use the time to study, write papers or catch up on other school related tasks.

“We had a number of students who weren‘t passing,” Bennett said. “Rather than do the same things over and over again, we needed a new approach to help those kids be successful. We continue to develop our approach to help them.”

Condon, 51, has been teaching seventh-grade science for 25 years. He jokes that he was hired 10 minutes before the bell rang on the first day of school.

“They were desperate,” he said. “I took the job, fully expecting to get a job back in Vancouver after one year in Camas. The summer after my first year here in Camas, I was offered a science job at my old junior high in Vancouver. It was the call I was waiting for, just a year too late. I turned them down on the phone. And the rest is history.”

Condon feels his greatest accomplishment in education is the relationships he’s built with students.

Early in his career, a student shared with him that his mom was going to die of cancer. This really impacted Condon, whose mother had also passed away from cancer when he was young.

“I cried harder than he did,” he said. “It was then that I understood my reason for being a seventh-grade teacher. I was a seventh-grader when my mom died. I could truly say to this young person, ‘I understand,’ and not just be another adult saying it. I now had a reason and a purpose to be where I was, and still am. I am blessed. I did not go through college with a burning desire to be a teacher, I just ended up here. Now I know why.”

Reflecting on that moment, Condon said he is grateful to the Camas School District.

“I was just a young guy, and I’m so appreciative of them for giving me a chance,” he said.