OSD Teacher of the Year: Elaine Rinker

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OSD Teacher of the Year: Elaine Rinker
OSD Teacher of the Year 2020

Note: Elaine Rinker was honored at the May 11 Olympia School Board meeting. The meeting began at 6:30 p.m. and was an online Zoom meeting.


Every year, our district selects a Teacher of the Year from nominations submitted by students, staff and community members. This year we proudly present Elaine Rinker, who teaches special education at Centennial Elementary School.

Rinker says she experienced a flood of varying emotions, including shock, gratefulness and a deep sense of appreciation, when she was told she had been chosen as the Teacher of the Year at an impromptu Centennial Elementary staff meeting.

At Centennial, Rinker is nicknamed “the golden unicorn.” The name originated with Principal Shannon Ritter. In praise of Rinker, Ritter says, “There’s no problem she can’t figure out a solution to.” Over the years, Rinker has been given a mug with a golden unicorn etched on it and a small stuffy unicorn with golden hooves and a horn. She keeps both of these on her desk.

Rinker, who has been teaching special education for eight years, also has high praise for the school she works at. “I can honestly say without any doubt that each and every teacher at Centennial wants nothing more than to have his or her students be successful,” she says. “Working with a team that is always willing to go above and beyond inspires and motivates me every day.”

Rinker decided to become a teacher out of a love for making a difference in others’ lives. In her own school years, she says she struggled. That, in turn, has helped her relate to her students. “Each of my students is unique, with unique strengths and unique struggles,” she says. “My job is to figure out their specific challenges and make a plan, using their strengths to solve it, and then support the student until they have reached their goal. Just like me, all my students need is a little extra support and encouragement to boost their skills and self-esteem.”

She remembers special teaching moments this past year, such as when a student read more than 100 words per minute for the first time. She also recalled a time when a student announced that she was good at multiplication. “Any time one of my students overcomes a challenge or finds success, it becomes my next favorite moment,” Rinker says.