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President Obama Honors Three Expeditionary Learning Teachers of the Year

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    April Hattori

 

An unprecedented three Expeditionary Learning (EL) teachers were honored recently at the White House as part of the celebration honoring Teachers of the Year, representing the 50 states and three U.S. territories.  The three EL state Teachers of the Year are:

“Today is a chance to thank not just the teachers on this stage but teachers all across the country.  We really can’t say enough about how important their role is in making sure that America succeeds.  So thank you for what you’re giving our children and what you’re giving our nation,” President Obama said.

The President greeted each teacher personally. Bill shared invitations from his students to visit their school and play a round of basketball. The President replied with a smile that “his game was broke.”  After Megan told him she taught science, he encouraged her to “keep up the good work.”  Karen mentioned that King Middle School is part of the Expeditionary Learning network and he remembered it.  Karen received the additional honor of standing next to the President in the group photo since she was in the first row.

The White House ceremony was one facet of the Teacher of the Year celebrations.  The teachers also met with Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President and a teacher, and for the first time, the White House invited State Teachers of the Year to discuss education policy. 

“The opportunity to contribute to federal education policy with on-the-ground classroom experience was exhilarating, and many teachers took the opportunity to discuss multiple measures of deep student learning and deep teacher effectiveness,” Megan said. She added that her recommendations focused on empowering teachers to gather and analyze student data in classrooms.

All three teachers noted that being Teachers of the Year bestowed upon them teachable moments and great responsibility. 

Karen noted that her students were able to see the hard work that goes into being in contention for the National Teacher of the Year, which was a team effort of the students, staff, and community.

“The students saw all the time that was put into it.  They learned that the process itself was valuable. If you don’t keep stepping up to take risks, you may never know what is possible,” Karen said.

Megan was surprised at the opportunity being Minnesota Teacher of the Year provided to advocate for teachers and students.  “I didn’t realize the voice I had. During teacher contract bargaining talks, I was asked for my opinion.  My voice contributed to smaller class sizes, more whole child support, including more nurses, counselors, and social workers.  It was exciting to be part of it,” she said.

Bill agreed. “Now that I have this distinction, it prompts me to have a message and share it,” he said.  One issue he is passionate about is teacher recruitment, noting that he wants to talk to young people about the benefits and joys of the profession.

 Summing up the Washington, D.C. experience, Karen remarked. “Everyone felt honored and heard. It was great to see the profession getting respect. In many ways, I wished other teachers could have these moments. It’s important to honor teachers and their hard work,” she said.

Reflecting on their experience together, the three teachers expressed their joy in connecting with other EL practitioners. In a sea of 53 Teachers of the Year, they shared a commitment to students and innovative teaching practices, along with their shared experiences within EL network.  They will be meeting again during four additional State Teacher of the Year events and hope to contribute in some way at the EL National Conference in December.