Three weeks after being named the National Teacher of the Year, Mandy Manning finally has a chance to reflect.
“I would say that just now, this weekend, I’ve been able to breathe and release a little bit,” Manning said over Monday morning coffee on the South Hill.
She had just dropped off her 6-year-old son, Harper, at the bus stop. Husband Ryan Brodwater was already at Spokane Transit, where he’s a project manager.
“I couldn’t do this without his support and love,” said Manning, who wasn’t quite prepared for the lifestyle change that followed her announcement as the nation’s top teacher on April 20.
“Everything has moved so fast,” said Manning, who was chosen from among 55 other state and territorial winners. “I started getting phone calls and interview requests.”
“And then the White House happened,” she said.
That was May 2, when President Donald Trump presented Manning with her award: a crystal apple on which her name was engraved.
Manning returned the favor with signed letters from 33 of her students – immigrants and refugees in the English Language Development Newcomer Center at Ferris High School.
As she delivered the letters, Manning sent another message: “That our immigrants and refugee students are focused and dedicated and also committed to being productive members of our community,” she said Monday.
Manning also shared some of the letters with The Spokesman-Review, with the condition that their authors’ names be withheld.
Mostly they were letters of hardship supplanted by hope.
A boy from Ukraine pledged to Trump that “I will try to make America better.”
A deaf teenager from Syria said he plans to attend college next year.
An Iraqi immigrant tried flattery. “My dream is to be a big businessman and be as successful as you are,” he wrote to Trump.
And this from an African refugee: “I have a question for you: Why do you say African people are trash?”
The writer closed with a message to Trump on the dangers of trickle-down denigration: “When you say you don’t want refugees, students in the hall at school tell me that that they don’t want me here because I am a refugee.
“You can change this by saying good things about people like me,” the letter ended.
Recalling the ceremony at the White House, Manning said, “From the beginning to the end, I was there for my students, to deliver my students’ messages to the president and communicate some of those messages through my remarks.”
“I wasn’t necessarily thinking about how it was going to play politically,” she said.
However, Manning will impart that message until her term ends next spring, through op-ed pieces and a blog that will reach a national audience.
That’s important, because many of her public appearances will be sermons to the choir: a state PTA meeting this week in Vancouver, the national PTA this summer in New Orleans and other like-minded groups.
Manning believes inclusiveness isn’t just for blue states.
“I definitely want to challenge people,” she said. “I know that there are immigrants in West Virginia and Tennessee and Alabama, and I know that the people in those communities have big hearts.”
Manning’s heart is still in Spokane, but now she’s a teacher without a classroom. She tries to drop in twice a week to consult with her long-term substitute, check in with other teachers at Ferris and hug her students.
“I miss them so much,” said Manning, who knows they’re in good hands.
“This award is very humbling … all of the teachers at Ferris are so deserving,” said Manning, who likened the award to winning the lottery.
“I just need to ensure that I will be a good voice for my students, my colleagues, my community and the other teachers of the year,” Manning said.