Kathy Coyne swears she’s an average teacher.
People at Lockwood Elementary in Bothell describe her differently.
“If everyone could bring half of what she brings, we’d be a better school,” said Lockwood music teacher Cynthia Zody.
“I’ve never learned more in an elementary class than I did with her,” says 15-year-old Samantha Miller, one of Coyne’s former students.
The American Legion recently joined what has become a chorus of praise for this fifth-grade Lockwood teacher, naming her Educator of the Year for the state of Washington during an April 15 ceremony at her school.
“I’m representative of your average teacher,” Coyne said. “Any boost for teachers is good, so this award really goes out to all of them.”
Coyne has a history with both the military and the American Legion. Her father was a Korean War veteran, and she began her career in Frankfurt, Germany, as an educator for the Department of Defense.
“We were working in portables, often with an MP (military police) at every door to protect us from Cold War terrorist groups,” Coyne said. “Bless the MPs.”
Coyne later taught special education at Woodinville’s Sorenson Elementary, where she began her 28-year career with the Northshore School District.
The veteran teacher earned a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology from Washington State University, a master’s in reading education at Central Washington, and a Ph.D. in curriculum and administration from Seattle Pacific University.
Coyne could have used her credentials to become a principal, a superintendent or even a full-time academic, but she continued teaching grade school instead.
“I just really enjoy the kids,” she said.
Coyne works intermittently as an adjunct professor at Seattle University.
She also co-written several articles for professional teaching journals with her husband — also a teacher — and authored a children’s book called “Fathers,” which addresses the insecurities that children often express to their parents through questions.
“The questions aren’t the end-all,” Coyne said. “They’re the beginning of a communication. It’s about talking and having a deeper connection with adult role models.”
Coyne’s teaching methods focus on thoughtfulness and positive citizenship.
Her students write monthly essays on humanitarian issues and create handmade cards to thank soldiers for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“She teaches compassion,” Zody said. “It’s kind of an ongoing commitment to things we don’t always think about.”
Her students also practice flattery, regularly praising each other with cut-out stars that bear personalized remarks.
“I want them to give compliments as a matter of habit,” Coyne said. “A lot of kids don’t know how to do that. Our society isn’t teaching them these things.”
The American Legion award wasn’t Coyne’s first as a teacher. She picked up an Excellence in Education Award from the state of Washington in 1999.
“I’m really just humbled by it all,” Coyne said. “I thought what I did was anonymous. I put in a lot of hours, but I do it quietly, not expecting anything. When I leave at six every day, the parking lot is still filled with colleagues.”