Educators from Kansas and across the country were honored Thursday by President Barack Obama. The National Teacher’s Hall of Fame Class of 2014 Teachers were in attendance. The President expressed the importance of educators to our country and conveyed his gratitude for the dedication of teachers.
“Today is a chance to thank not just the teachers on the stage, but teachers from all across the country,” said Obama. “We really can’t say enough about how important their role is in making sure America succeeds. So, thank you, for what you are giving our children and what you are giving our nation.”
Teachers of the year from all 50 states were recognized at the event. Each of their names were announced as they entered the East Room of the White House. Jeff Baxter, an English Teacher at Leavenworth High School is the 2014 Kansas Teacher of the Year. The 2014 National Teacher of the Year, Sean McComb, received his award from the president and gave a brief speech.
The NTHF Class of 2014 Teachers are Jan Alderson, Cindy Couchman, Marguerite Izzo, Gary Koppelman and Rebecca Palacios. They were accompanied to the ceremony by Carol Strickland, Director of NTHF and Lindy Whetzel, NTHF board member. The teachers are taking part in numerous activities during their time in Washington, D.C.
The first induction of the NTHF was held in June of 1992. In 1993, President Bill Clinton endorsed and commended the NTHF in a White House Rose Garden Ceremony.
“At the heart of a democracy is its educational system,” said Clinton. “And in the heart of America is The National Teachers Hall of Fame.”
For the first time since that endorsement ceremony the NTHF class was welcomed back to the White House and had the opportunity to meet the president. Prior to Obama’s speech, the five NTHF teachers as well as the 50 Teachers of the Year awardees met with him in the Oval Office. During that time they had a portrait taken with the president. Attendees enjoyed live music, drinks and the opportunity to visit with other educators throughout the reception period.
“We have tried to get to the White House every year since 1993, when President Bill Clinton invited the inductees, but it just never happened,” said Strickland. “And this year it was like the planets aligned. Secretary Duncan and the National Education Association were asking, and then the teachers of the year were here at the same time so it happened.”
Throughout his speech Obama spoke to the great importance of teachers to the children and country. He highlighted the impact that teachers can have on young lives.
“I still remember all the wonderful teachers who made me who I am,” the president said. “Who opened the world up to me, who made me feel that I had something to offer and maybe saw things in me before I saw them in myself. We all have teachers like that. If you talk to anyone that has succeeded in business or written a play or invented an app they will tell you about that teacher or coach who challenged them or inspired them. That taught them values or encouraged them. Everyone has somebody like that in their lives. That is what great teachers do.”
Obama introduced the National Teacher of the Year McComb. Laughter erupted from the crowd when Obama explained that receiving the National Teacher of the Year award wasn’t the highlight of McComb’s year but actually ranked at least second. The actual highlight of his year was the birth of his first child, a son named Silas, only six weeks ago. Silas quietly attended the ceremony with McComb’s wife, Sarah, who is also a teacher.
McComb also spoke to the impact that a teacher had on his life. When McComb was a high school student he dealt with some “pretty difficult situations.” He struggled until he entered Mr. Shirts’ English class. Shirts inspired McComb to work hard and, when McComb’s mother passed away, he helped gather the strength to write and give her eulogy. McComb said he strives to inspire his own students in the same way every day.
“I became a teacher because I had incredible teachers who shined a light of hope and possibility into a dark time in my life,” said McComb. “Teaching is my calling to do that for others. An opportunity to spend my career living purposefully.”
The NTHF inductees appreciated the opportunity to meet the president and were moved by his speech.
“I don’t think there is any bigger honor for a citizen of the United States than to meet the President of the United States,” said Izzo. “I think it speaks volumes about the importance of the profession that the president took time to honor teachers. His remarks were so heartfelt. This is a president who really understands the importance of education and supports teachers.”
Even several hours after the ceremony and reception the inductees were still slightly shocked that the days events had unfolded and they had actually spent a portion of their day inside the White House.
“I was totally totally blown away,” said Koppelman. “Never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would meet a president. It was just wonderful.”
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, members of Congress and members of the National Education Association were also in attendance at the White House Ceremony. Secretary Duncan is a strong supporter of the NTHF and advocated for the inductees to be included in the days activities. Following the reception, Duncan took a few moments to express his feelings about the NTHF.
“I’m just a huge fan of the National Teachers Hall of Fame,” said Duncan. “I love visiting and hope to come back again sometime soon. We can’t do enough to shine a spotlight on the extraordinary teachers who are impacting students’ lives every single day. I want to thank the NTHF for their partnership with us.”
While the day’s activities seemed to focus on just the teachers in the White House, the NTHF inductees expressed that the ceremony and recognition are actually beneficial for all teachers, highlighting the importance of the entire teaching profession.
“I think when you respect one teacher, you are respecting the profession of all teachers,” said Alderson.