Romig Middle School science teacher Ben Walker has been named the 2018 Teacher of the Year.

The State of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development surprised Walker at an assembly on Thursday morning.

Teaching and science seem to run in Walker’s family. He’s been teaching seventh graders at Romig for 12 years in the same classroom where his mother Keren Walker also taught science.

“Here’s an old lesson plan of hers,” he said, digging through an old file cabinet.

“It's printed on the old dot matrix printer. 1986,” he said.

His goal is to go beyond hands-on lessons to create a complete learning experience.

“I prefer the term experiential because hands-on, you can be busy but not be intellectually engaged or emotionally engaged in something,” Walker explained.

Students appreciate his approach to making science entertaining.

“Before this, I wasn't' into all these tiny things, microorganisms and what I was learning but he makes it fun to learn,” said Ari Kaufman. “With all his jokes he keeps you pulled in and want to learn more.”

Walker, 41, is a 1994 graduate of Dimond High School, where his wife, Catherine Walker, now works as a biology teacher too. He grew up in Ketchikan where his mom taught math. Walker got his degree in biology at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington before moving back to Alaska.

“I had no intention of being a teacher. I was going to come back here and do wildlife for fisheries or something like that,” he said.

However, teaching turned out to be a natural fit. Now, more than a decade into his career, it’s clear he’s passionate about his students.

“The only secret to teaching, in general, is to enjoy it. That's the only secret to enjoy kids. If you can do that, you can teach anything,” the father of two said.

Walker was one of four finalists, selected from 24 applications for Teacher of the Year.

Bob Williams, the Director of Educator and School Excellence, said it’s important to acknowledge Walker’s commitment in and out of the classroom.

“Our superintendents are working hard, our principals are working hard but it's the teachers in the classrooms where the rubber meets the road,” Williams said. “We need teacher leadership to help accomplish what we want to accomplish as a state.”

Walker said, while he’s honored to receive the award and couldn’t do the work he does without an outstanding team of teachers beside him.

“These things are a lot of fun and I think we need to recognize teachers more, but when you recognize them, it's not as an individual. It’s hard to say it’s just me,” Walker said.