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Rodney Coryer takes a close look at some exotic fish he and his pupils care for in the math and science classroom. Coryer, 54, sixth-grade math and science teacher at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station's Matthew C. Perry Elementary School, recently was named Department of Defense Dependents Schools Japan District Teacher of the Year for 2004-05.
Rodney Coryer takes a close look at some exotic fish he and his pupils care for in the math and science classroom. Coryer, 54, sixth-grade math and science teacher at Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station's Matthew C. Perry Elementary School, recently was named Department of Defense Dependents Schools Japan District Teacher of the Year for 2004-05. (Greg Tyler / S&S)

IWAKUNI MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Japan — It’s not that Rodney Coryer doesn’t appreciate being named Department of Defense Dependents Schools Japan District Teacher of the Year; he does.

“It feels really good to get some kind of recognition for something you’ve been doing all your life,” said the 54-year-old sixth-grade math and science teacher at Matthew C. Perry Elementary School.

It’s just that, interviewed this week in his classroom, he seemed as excited — perhaps more so — when recounting how a student from the 1970s now is teaching in high school, “and he said it had a lot to do with the impression I was able to make on him all those years ago. Now that’s truly rewarding.”

On a day-to-day basis, Coryer said, the best rewards come from seeing a pupil’s eyes light up when they “experience one of what we call the ‘Aha!’ moments. Suddenly something clicks and they get it, and it can open whole new horizons for them from that point.”

Such an “Aha!” moment from a more recent pupil may have led to his teacher-of-the-year award.

“This all started because one of my former students wrote a letter to our principal, and in the letter she told the principal why I should be the teacher of the year,” he said. “Then the principal encouraged me to apply, which obviously I did.”

Once they received the applications, Japan District upper-tier administrators interviewed several teachers in the running for the 2004-05 school year award.

“I found out by telephone,” said Coryer. “I was surprised. I had no clue I had won.”

Coryer spent eight years teaching at Misawa Air Base, one year at Yokota Air Base, three years in Germany and three in Incirlik, Turkey, all with DODDS; in all, he’s taught math and science to elementary school pupils for three decades. Still, he said Tuesday, he “never thought I had a chance. I’ve never won anything other than some local level certificates before this.”

But teacher-of-the-year honors are becoming an Iwakuni tradition — and a family one. Matthew C. Perry High School music and video-communications teacher James O. Hashman received the honor for the 2003-04 school year. And Coryer’s classroom shares a door with the classroom of the 2002-03 recipient, sixth-grade language arts and social studies instructor Naomi Mayer.

That’s handy for more than sharing teaching tips: Mayer is Coryer’s wife.

Next in the Teacher of the Year award process, each overseas DODDS district winner and one from all the military schools in the United States compete for one DOD Education Activity Teacher of the Year slot. The DODEA teacher of the year competes against one nationwide public schools teacher of the year selected from a pool of state winners, and one from independent schools selected from winners nominated from each state.

At that point, usually in the late spring, one of the three finalists becomes National Teacher of the Year for 2004-05.

Does Coryer think there is a chance he’ll win the top honor?

“No, I doubt it,” he said. “But then again, I didn’t have any confidence of being selected on the DODDS Japan District level either.”

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