President Obama Honors the 2012 National Teacher of the Year and Finalists
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President Obama Honors the 2012 National Teacher of the Year and Finalists

(applause) The President:
Everybody, please have a seat. Have a seat. Welcome to the White House. Before we get started, I want to
recognize one of our greatest advocates for education
and for teachers, our Secretary of Education,
Arne Duncan, is here. Give him a big
round of applause. (applause) Now, let’s face it, a lot
of important people visit the White House. (laughter) But to young people in
classrooms around the country, nobody is more important than
the men and women that we honor here today — the State and
National Teachers of the Year. These are the kind of teachers
who change lives forever. I wouldn’t be here today if it
were not for teachers like these who challenged me, and pushed
me, and put up with me, and inspired me — and set
me straight when they had to. And I think everybody here
can say the exact same thing. Teachers matter. That’s why I often tell young
people: If you want a guarantee that you’re making a
difference every single day, become a teacher. A teacher is the key to a child
reaching their potential. And if we need more proof —
(baby chatters) Yes, it’s true. (laughter) Yes. She agrees. (laughter) And if we need more proof
that teachers matter, all we’ve got to do is
look around this room. I’m honored to be here with
teachers like Gay Barnes, from Madison, Alabama, one
of the four finalists for this award. There’s Angela Wilson, who
teaches children of military families at Vicenza
Middle School, in Italy. Not a bad place to hang out. (laughter) There is Alvin Aureliano Davis,
who teaches music in Florida. And there is our 2012
National Teacher of the Year, Rebecca Mieliwocki, from
Burbank, California. So give Rebecca a big
round of applause. (applause) And this is Rebecca’s
crew right here — (laughter) — who are very proud. Auntie and cousins and — (laughter) Ms. Mieliwocki:
My boss. The President:
Oh, boss. (laughter) Even more important. (laughter) Now, you might say that
teaching is in Rebecca’s DNA, because both her parents
taught in public schools. She saw how hard they worked,
how much time and energy they devoted to their jobs, how much
they gave to their students. But when she was 18, of course,
the last thing she wanted to be was a teacher. What teenager wants to do
what their parents are doing? (laughter) So in college, she really
rebelled and went to law school. (laughter) Now, she then tried a few
different careers after that. After studying to
become a lawyer, she went into publishing
and floral design and event planning. But ultimately, she found
herself drawn back to the classroom, and her students
are so lucky that she did. She’s got high expectations for
her 7th graders and for herself, but she also knows
that school can be fun. And that fits a personality that
she describes as “a 12 year-old goofball dying to get out.” (laughter) And I have to say, she was a
little goofy when I met her. (laughter) She was back there teasing
me and asking Arne about our basketball games and stuff. (laughter) You can tell she’s just
got a wonderful spirit. And so in addition to everything
they learn in her English class, Rebecca’s students have had
a chance to film their own adaptations of an
O. Henry short story. They worked with a local writer
to develop five-minute plays, which professional
actors then performed. Rebecca has led field trips
to the science center, to the aquarium, to Chinatown,
even the La Brea tar pits — that’s a trip you really don’t
want to lose track of anybody. (laughter) Only one kid? (laughter) They never showed
up that morning — (laughter) — I was wondering
where they were. (laughter) Rebecca knows that education
also is a responsibility that begins at home. So she hosts family nights
to get parents involved. She sends home weekly parent
memos so moms and dads know what’s going on in school. She maintains a Facebook
page for her class, where families can get
information and updates 24/7. And all this extra work
makes a huge difference. When kids finish a year
in Rebecca’s class, they’re better readers and
writers than when they started. But even more than that, they
know how important they are. And they understand how
bright their futures can be. And they know that
if they work at it, there’s no limit to
what they can achieve. So Rebecca is the definition
of “above and beyond.” And so many teachers around
the country are like her. She throws herself into her work
for a simple reason: She knows that her students depend on her. And as she puts it, “Life is too
short and too difficult to have anything less than
the most engaged, enthusiastic
teachers in schools.” I couldn’t agree more. And I know Arne
couldn’t agree more. I also want to point
something else out. Rebecca said in
applying for this award, she said that in some ways
it’s harder than ever to be an educator. Even in the best of times,
teachers are asked to do more with less. And today, with our economy
still recovering from the worst recession since
the Great Depression, states and communities
have to stretch budgets tighter than ever. So we’ve got a particular
responsibility as elected officials in difficult times,
instead of bashing teachers to support them. We should be giving states the
resources to keep good teachers on the job and
reward the best ones. And we should grant our
educators the flexibility to teach with creativity and
passion in the classroom and not just teaching to the test. And we should allow schools
to replace teachers, who, even with the right
resources and support, just aren’t helping
our kids to learn. Because we’ve all got
something at stake here. Our parents, our grandparents —
they didn’t build the world’s most prosperous economy and
the strongest middle class in the world out of thin air. It started with a world-class
education system. That was the foundation. And in the long run, no issue
will have a bigger impact in our success as a country and
the success of our citizens. So every day, when teachers
like you put in long hours, or dig into your own pockets
to pay for school supplies, or tweak lessons so they’re even
better than they were last year, you’re not just serving your
schools or your students, you’re also serving
your country. And you’re helping to preserve
the basic promise of America, that no matter who you
are, where you come from, what you look like, what your
last name is, you can succeed. You can make it if you try,
if you put in the effort. So on behalf of the
American people, thank you all for
everything that you do. And congratulations. I’m going to present this
spiffy-looking award to Rebecca Mieliwocki. (applause) Rebecca Mieliwocki:
That is very heavy,
that award right there. I have a little bit of
laryngitis this morning, so please forgive
my croaky voice. Thank you, Mr. President,
for your kind introduction, and especially for taking your
time to honor American educators in the way you have. Inviting us here to the White
House to be recognized by you is such a proud moment for
us, for our families, and for our students. Your commitment to us, to
American children and to the ideals inherent in a free public
education are tremendously inspiring, and I
couldn’t be prouder that you’re my President. (Applause) Thank you, Secretary Duncan,
for being a dedicated advocate to the strengthening of
American education in all of its forms and facets. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. (applause) Thank you to my Burbank
school family and the California delegation
for coming all this way, and for supporting me
every step of the way, and for cultivating a place
where I can do great work with students, students who are right
now taking their state tests, so go Yellow Jackets, do your
best to make us really proud. I know you’re going to. Thank you to my
parents, Bill and Sue, for coming here today to
see a dream come true. My partners are themselves
retired public schoolteachers, and they devoted much of
their lives to guiding, growing and loving young
people, one of whom was me. I think you did pretty
well, don’t you? Yeah. To my mother and
father-in-law, Tom and Jill, and thank you for loving me as
one of your own all this time. And most importantly to
my amazing husband, Duane, and my son, Davis, your love and
your laughter and your devotion sustain and complete me. I could not be here
today without your love. I love you so much. Thank you. I stand here today with 53 of
America’s finest educators, the 2012 State
Teachers of the Year. (applause) A more dedicated,
intelligent, compassionate, hard-working group of
professionals you will never meet. And I stand here among
them as one of them simply blows me away. Why? Because I am not ‘the’
best teacher in America. There isn’t one. All across this nation, there
are millions of teachers who do the work that I do,
and many do it better. But what I do have are the
qualities that some of the best teachers have. I have an absolute
passion for my work. I have a bottomless well
of belief in my students and their potential. I have a thirst for getting
better at what I do every single day. And I have a warm and welcoming
heart for all students and the unique gifts that they
bring to my classroom. But underneath all of
that, I have an unshakeable understanding that with
a strong education, children can do anything
they set their minds to. Our children are our future, and
that I have a hand in guiding and shaping that future compels
me to make every minute, every lesson, every
moment with them count. All across this nation, millions
of teachers just like me are working wonders in
their classroom. And to be sure, the
challenges that we face are enormous and complex. There are barriers to student
success that we didn’t create and which are far
beyond our control, but despite these burdens,
teachers persevere. Every day here in America,
teachers with patience and creativity are opening doors for
students to reach deep within themselves to learn
more, to solve problems, to grow and to
nurture their dreams. And that we do this work with
conviction, that’s not unusual, is isn’t even rare. It happens in America’s
classrooms every day, and I need you to know that. To my fellow educators here
today and across this country, I commend you for the magic you
continue to make day in and day out in your classrooms. You pull your students in
with imaginative lessons, and then you push your students
to perform the best they can every single day. The devotion that you show to
all of your students will reap a lifetime of benefits, benefits
that will continue to strengthen this already exceptional nation. So teachers, I
want to say to you, be passionate about your work
and your students, stay curious, never stop learning, and bring
the joy of what you know into your classrooms and share
it with your students, set the highest expectations
for each and every one of your students, but do me a favor, and
set an even higher set of goals for yourself. You are a hero to someone
and you may not even know it. And if the future depends on
your passion, your dedication, your professionalism, we are in
remarkably capable hands and it is my honor to represent you. Thank you very much. (applause) The President:
All right everybody, behave
yourself, no rabbit ears. (laughter) All right, everybody say cheese.

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