The first rule of Adam Whatley's classroom is: Be curious.
It's a credo he lives by.
"Learning should be happening all the time," he said. "Ideally, we should be growing as people until we are under the ground."
Whatley, a 1996 Carson High School graduate, now teaches English and technology there. He was selected as the 2012 Educator of the Year for the Carson City School District.
"I never expected this would happen," he said. "I think most teachers work day in and day out for an idea and not for a thank you. Education is this idea of making a learned world, a knowledgeable world for everyone. I never expected anyone would say, 'Gee, you're doing a good job at it.'"
Whatley received the recognition at last week's school board meeting, but could not accept it because he was with his robotics team, the Brobots, competing at the World Festival in St. Louis.
Whatley, a self-described "robotics hobbyist," organized the team to give students a chance to explore new ways of learning.
While the students expected to use this first year as a learning experience, they went on to win the regional championships.
Principal Ron Beck said he was not surprised that Whatley led his team to the world championships in the first year.
"That's just the way Adam does things," Beck said. "He does everything to the best of his ability."
However, Beck said that while winning the robotics championship may be the reason the community has taken notice of Whatley recently, it's not the reason for the award.
"This is not just about one item, this a culmination over the years," Beck said. "Adam is very conscientious and is always willing to do anything he can to help our students."
Whatley didn't always intend to be a teacher. In high school, he said, he had no clue what he wanted to do with his life. But he's grateful he chose education.
"Young people are exciting to be around because they are so creative," he said. "There's nothing mundane about teaching. You can ask kids the same thing, and every year they answer it in a different way."
One such question he posed was whether Facebook could be making people depressed or narcissistic.
"It's a question that didn't even exist five years ago," he said.
Whatley said the conclusion doesn't really matter.
"It's not about telling them what is," Whatley explained. "It's about having them wonder about what is."
Whatley received his bachelor's degree from Southern Oregon University with no plans to return to Carson City. But after he and his wife, Teresa Breeden - a fellow Carson High School alumnus who now teaches there as well - lived other places they realized Carson City was where they wanted to raise their two children.
As an outdoor enthusiast who's completed the Death Ride several times, Whatley said he was drawn back to the area.
"It's a really great place to raise kids," he said. "We've got Tahoe right here, running trails and some of the best road biking in the world."
And although he was named the district's best, he said he is fortunate to work with his fellow teachers.
"I'm humbled, but there are many teachers in this school who are equally, if not more, deserving of praise," he said. "You can get a very good education at Carson High School."