2011 National Teacher of the Year Award
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2011 National Teacher of the Year Award

(applause) President Obama:
Thank you, everybody. Please have a seat,
please have a seat. What a beautiful day — a
wonderful day to celebrate teachers and teaching. I am honored to welcome this
group of outstanding teachers behind me to the White House. (applause) They are the best of the best. And even though we can never
really thank teachers enough, today is a chance to offer
them a small token of our appreciation for the difference
they make in the lives of our children and the
future of our country. I want to start by acknowledging
somebody who I think will end up being one of the greatest
Secretaries of Education we’ve ever had, could not be more
passionate about making sure that our young people get
a great start in life, and that’s Arne Duncan. Give him a big
round of applause. (applause) I am very proud that we’ve
got some wonderful members of Congress who are here from
the great state of Maryland, who I think are
pretty proud of you. (laughter) As I’ve said before, it’s not
just the winners of the Super Bowl who deserve
to be celebrated. And that’s why I also want to
welcome the teams from the National Science Bowl who
are here with us today. Where are they? There you are, right back there. Good to see you. (applause) Secretary Chu told me that you
all did a great job this year. So congratulations. And finally, I want to
congratulate our state and national Teachers of the Year. Now, I’m not sure
if you can tell, but it’s been a while
since I was in school. (laughter) I haven’t had to ask for a
hall pass in a few years. I think it is
important to note — this is off script, but the
Teacher of the Year from Hawaii — where is she? Wave — teaches at the
first school I ever went to, Noelani School up
in Manoa in Hawaii. (applause) So I thought that
was pretty cool. (laughter) I went there in first grade. (laughter) It’s a wonderful school. But even after all this time,
I still remember the special teachers that touched my life. And we all do. We remember the way
they challenged us, the way they made us
feel, how they pushed us, the encouragement
that they gave us, the values that they taught
us, the way they helped us to understand the world and
analyze it and ask questions. They helped us become the
people that we are today. For me, one of those people
was my fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Mabel Hefty. When I walked into Ms. Hefty’s
classroom for the first time, I was a new kid who had been
living overseas for a few years, had a funny name
nobody could pronounce. But she didn’t let me
withdraw into myself. She helped me believe that I
had something special to say. She made me feel special. She reinforced the sense of
empathy and thoughtfulness that my mother and my grandparents
had tried hard to instill in me — and that’s a lesson
that I still carry with me as President. Ms. Hefty is no longer with us,
but I often think about her and how much of a difference
she made in my life. And everybody has got
a story like that, about that teacher who made the
extra effort to shape our lives in important ways. What people I think don’t
realize is just how much work and how much sacrifice it
takes to make that connection. My sister is a teacher, and so
I’ve had the occasion of just watching her preparing lesson
plans and then going out of her way to call that student who
she thinks has potential but is slipping away, and working with
parents who maybe don’t know how to support their kids. And it’s tiring work, but
how incredibly gratifying it must be. Because in the end, the most
effective teachers are the ones who are constantly striving
to get better and help their students get better. Those teachers who stay
up late grading papers. The teachers who give up their
afternoons and free periods to give that student a little
bit of extra one-on-one help, and spend evenings and weekends
developing lesson plans and activities that don’t
just teach the material, but make it come alive. And the teachers who see the
potential in students even when the students themselves
don’t see that potential. And the teacher standing
next to me, Michelle Shearer, I think is an example
of that kind of teacher. Michelle teaches AP chemistry at
Urbana High School in Maryland. Before that, she taught
chemistry and math at the Maryland School for the Deaf. That’s, in fact, how I just
learned she got into teaching, was initially volunteering,
working with deaf students. Michelle’s specialty is taking
students who are normally underrepresented in science
— minorities, women, students with disabilities, even
students who say equations and formulas are just
not their thing — and helping them discover
the scientist within. At the Maryland
School for the Deaf, Michelle taught AP chemistry for
the first time in the school’s 135-year history, explaining
concepts like kinetics and electrochemistry
using only her hands. When she suggested her students
also sign up for AP calculus, she was met with some
questioning looks. “Why?” one student asked. And she said, “Because
you can,” she signed back. And for the next two years,
she spent her planning period teaching calculus, probability,
and statistics to students who never would have had the
opportunity to take those classes otherwise. When Michelle moved
to Urbana in 2006, 11 students were
enrolled in AP chemistry. This year, there are 92. Some of her former students have
gone on to become science and math teachers themselves,
applying the techniques they learned in the classroom
to make a tough subject manageable and fun. One student wrote, “…you have
not only shown me how to be the best chemistry student I can
be, but also the best person I can be.” I should also
mention, by the way, that Michelle’s husband is an AP
physics teacher and her dad and mom, who are here,
your dad taught — Ms. Shearer:
Chemistry. President Obama:
— chemistry. Ms. Shearer:
He was a chemist. President Obama:
He was a chemist. So — and her mom
was a music teacher. So she had a little bit
of a jump on this whole teaching thing — (laughter) — and this whole science thing. But what an incredible testament
when a student tells you not only you made
chemistry interesting, but you made them
a better person. America will only be as strong
in this century as the education that we provide our students. And at a time when our success
as a nation depends on our ability to out-educate
other countries, we desperately need more
Michelles out there. And that’s why we’ve set a
goal of preparing 100,000 new teachers in the field
of science, technology, engineering, and math
over the next decade — fields that will give students
the skills they need to compete with their peers
anywhere in the world. And to help those
teachers succeed, I’ve called on Congress to move
quickly to fix No Child Left Behind in a way that makes it
less punitive, more focused, more flexible. That means doing a better
job of preparing teachers, doing a better job of measuring
their success in the classroom, helping them improve in
providing professional development, and then
holding them accountable. Because if we truly believe in
the importance of teachers, then we’ve got to help teachers
become more effective. In the words of one
of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats, “Education
is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Teachers here today, and
thousands like them, are surrounded every day by
young people who will shape our future. But it takes a special
person to recognize that. It takes a special person
to light that fire, to raise our children’s
expectations for themselves, and never give up on them
no matter how challenging it might be. All of us are here because
at some point somebody did that for us. And so today, we are honored to
recognize these outstanding men and women and all the teachers
like them who have always had — and will continue to have
— such an important impact on our lives. So with that, I would like to
present Michelle with her apple. (applause) Ms. Shearer:
Thank you, Mr. President,
Secretary Duncan, distinguished guests,
family and friends. What a privilege to be at the
White House on National Teacher Day and to stand together with
all the Teachers of the Year as we represent America’s
dedicated educators. I am humbled to
accept this honor. And as we celebrate the
success we’ve achieved in our classrooms, I see the
faces of students — my 90 Advanced Placement
chemistry students who took their AP exam yesterday. (laughter) Students I taught over a decade
ago who now teach with me in the public schools. Deaf and hard-of-hearing
students, and students with special needs
who taught me always to see abilities, not disabilities. And students, like my
5-year-old daughter, young children full of
promise and potential. (laughter) As teachers we
advocate for students, and as Teachers of the Year
we represent our colleagues. There are millions of teachers
in America and we could all be pursuing different careers, but
we choose to use our gifts and talents to benefit
students in the classroom. Elementary school teachers lay
the foundation for a child’s academic success. Middle school teachers engage
students with creative instruction and teach the
skills students need to become self-sufficient learners. High school teachers empower
students to take ownership of their education as they prepare
for college and careers. Collectively, we teach
critical thinking, creative problem solving,
collaboration, communication, independence, adaptability,
self-confidence, and resilience — skills and
habits of mind our students need to succeed in
school and in life. Our passions include the
arts, world languages, English language arts,
history, social sciences, physical education, business
education, career education, and STEM — science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics. And whatever grade
or subject we teach, it’s a challenge to meet the
individual needs of diverse learners in our classrooms. And we’re proud to share in
our students’ achievements. My classroom bulletin boards
are covered with pictures of students I’ve taught
over the past 14 years — students who are my daily
inspiration to continue my commitment to teaching, a
profession that requires a tremendous investment of
personal energy and time, one that calls for love,
compassion, and dedication. But commitment to education
must extend beyond the walls of the classroom. Parents’ support and community
involvement are essential to ensure the success
of our students. Resources and technology are
essential to improve the quality of our schools. Our teachers — I’m sorry —
our students need innovative teachers and visionary leaders
to move public education forward by working together. We thank you, President
Obama and Secretary Duncan, for your leadership and for
your focus on education as a national priority. We look forward to working with
you to promote the success of our students and what’s
best for our schools. My students will tell you
that I love to give pep talks, and Friday was their last one
before their AP chemistry exam. And among other things, I
said, you are problem-solvers. No matter how challenging the
questions, have confidence, forge ahead, and make
progress toward solutions. Likewise in education, no matter
how challenging the issues, we must be problem-solvers. And as we continue to debate
ideas, allocate resources, and implement change, we must
make progress in a positive direction and
always — always — see the faces of our students. Thank you. (applause) President Obama:
I think you can see why
Michelle is Teacher of the Year. I think I’m going to send her
up to Congress to give them a pep talk. (laughter) Thank you, everybody. This ends the
ceremony, but again, we are so grateful to Michelle,
but we are also grateful to all the Teachers of the Year. Give them one more
big round of applause. (applause) Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United
States of America. (applause)

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