Educator Spotlight: Marnie Kazarian Olson
Family enhances teaching career for health and P.E. educator in Washington
This story is part of a weekly series that celebrates outstanding teachers in our Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
When Marnie Kazarian Olson was a child, she and her big sister would go to work with their dad.
He was an English professor at Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu, a young single father teaching night classes in beautifully old brick buildings filled with tradition and bad lighting and echoes.
Marnie would sit in the way back, quiet and respectful of all the grown-ups among her, and she would admire her dad up front.
“For the longest time actually, I didn’t even know he was a teacher,” says Marnie, who coaches physical education in Bellevue, Washington, today. “I remember looking at all of these young adults in the room, and it felt like everyone was having such a good time. We watched a lot of Seinfeld growing up, so when I saw my dad up there with this dark brick background, making people really happy, I honestly thought he was a comedian.
“So I thought, ‘Ok, this looks like a barrel of fun. I want to do this!’ Obviously, as I got older, it was like, ‘Oh, he’s a teacher. I guess that’ll do, too.”
She’s making people smile anyway. As a health and P.E. teacher, Marnie is jovial to be around. She’s animated and talks really fast and radiates energy with her positive attitude alone. Her kids are drawn to her because she sees her work as far more than a passing grade and instead thoughtfully encourages her students to believe in themselves, take risks and innovate and to support one another in their endeavors. And, she says she gets it from her dad.
“He had all these dad-isms he used to tell us all the time,” Marnie says. “If I would say, ‘Oh, I’ll get to that tomorrow,’ he’d respond right away with, ‘Well, what is today? Yesterday’s tomorrow?’ I just feel like a lot of the things he taught me as a child, I now teach to my students today, because they’re my kids!
“I say to all 650 of them all the time, ‘Every single one of you – I know your name, I know your brothers and sisters, and I want you to know that I’m not just your P.E. teacher. I am here as somebody you should be able to go to if you need help,’ and I think that’s something my dad taught me. He showed me to not just be an effective educator, but to be a really empathetic and thoughtful educator, too.”
Connecting With Kids
Marnie has been energizing the room far before her teaching career. As a college student, she mentored middle school athletes until a supervisor recognized her ability to coach and insisted she follow that path.
“I remember telling my dad I wanted to coach,” Marnie says. “After he laughed for an uncomfortable amount of time, he was like, ‘Yeah, you did sports in high in school, but do you remember in elementary you were never even picked for teams?’ ” Marnie laughs. “He was concerned about me being an educator in general, because he did that walk! But I knew this wasn’t just a paycheck for me – this is something I’m passionate about. I don’t know if I could go to work every day doing something that wasn’t in education.”
Her husband, Tyler, teaches, too. They leave the house before dawn every morning to tackle an hour-long commute to the same school, where he supports learners in the classroom and monitors the playground, too. He’s the “gentle giant” of the school who’s patient with the kids, acts like one of the kids and, now in remote learning, hosts “online recess” where the students build Legos together and show off their pets.
“The kids just love it, and I think it’s so important that we have adults like that – this variety of voices – in our instructional spaces,” says Marnie, who also hosted along with him a weekly virtual trivia night with the school’s families. Of course, that, too, was a hit. “I think he is the moon and the stars for every single kid, just so genuine, and the kids feel that, right? He keeps everyone cool and collected.”
Marnie speaks so highly of those she loves. When I asked to see photos of her life, she sent pictures of her family – all of them with that same infectious smile. Her stories and her memories are a testament to not only meaningful relationships and memorable teachers, but to the everlasting influence we can all have on one another. May all our educators be the unforgettable comedian in the front of the room.
“Growing up, on multiple occasions, people would ask, ‘Oh! Are you Dr. Kazarian’s daughter?’ and then they would say things like, ‘Your dad changed my life … He is one of the most amazing professors I’ve ever had … You’re so fortunate to have such an amazing person in your life!’ To me, it just shows you that the bond teachers can have with students in their different walks of life is so special,” Marnie says. “If I can emulate that to even just the tiniest percentage, I think I’m doing ok as an educator.”