Yesterday afternoon Second Lady Jill Biden hosted a meet and mingle for the 2010 National Teacher of the Year celebration. Although this year’s winner won’t be announced until Thursday at the White House, Biden, an educator herself for 29 years, chose for the second straight year in a row to gather the more than 50 winners from every state, the District of Columbia, and the territories in the vice president’s house in Washington. All but two of the winners were on hand to celebrate.
Biden spoke for about 10 minutes from the foyer of the Victorian mansion—mostly from prepared remarks. She addressed the importance of teaching and referenced her own passion for the profession. In a spontaneous gesture, she looked into the crowd and recognized the Teacher of the Year from her home state of Delaware, Mary Pinkston. Pinkston has taught at Wilmington’s Brandywine High School since 1994, where Biden taught from 1991-1993. Pinkston shouted out, “I brought you a bull dog [presumably the school mascot], but the Secret Service took it away.” The room broke out in laughter.
Biden shared that she had told her husband that she would remain teaching even if he became vice president. She explained she’d shared her passion for teaching and her desire to stay in the classroom with the first lady. “Michelle told me, ‘You have to do it. You have to do what you love.’” “I love being a teacher because I see that I can make a difference in the lives of my students. Regardless of the subject I’m teaching, my goal is to impart a sense of confidence in my students that will give them the strength to move in a positive direction.”
And she acknowledged that she, like the other teachers in the room, would be heading back upstairs to grade a stack of papers and would be getting up early in the morning, just like they do every day, to return to a classroom full of students at Northern Virginia Community College where she teaches English.
Shortly after the second lady spoke, the vice president—somewhat unexpectedly—arrived.
He spoke longer than his wife and addressed a few hot-button issues: “serious budget shortfalls” that have cost many teachers their jobs, the absence of government stimulus funds to help states get over their financial hurdles, and the financial balancing act between resources and economics. “You, as the premier teachers in this country, you have to also help us in making sure that we can continue to combat the argument that somehow teachers are in the way of the projects that are taking place. You know the argument that’s going on, particularly going after the teachers’ unions...You are going to have to figure out how to police your own profession.”
Biden also spoke about the administration’s commitment to education, including the $115 billion pledge the administration is making to education. He added, “We’ve got to create momentum for education in America. We’ve never made this kind of investment. And we’ve got to do this right. We’ve got to convince the American public that this is worth it.”
“Keep inspiring. I believe we are on a course of changing the whole dynamic of American education. We have to. And you are the ones to do it.” He offered the words of his late mother, “God bless you, dear.” And said how proud he was to be Jill’s husband. “Welcome to Dr. Biden’s house.”
The teachers’ reactions to the Bidens’ speeches—and to their experience in Washington—were difficult to ascertain, since the press—all two of us (myself and a 4th grader from an area school who was reporting for Scholastic Kids News)—were sequestered in the pool house for much of the afternoon. (It’s quite lovely, by the way).
In one interview I managed to get, Justin Darnell, a 7th and 8th grade science teacher from Colorado, said that for him the biggest issue in education today is equity. “All students deserve an equal education.” He said that “student-centered classrooms,” and more time and resources for teachers could help to move equity forward.
Look for a story about the 2010 National Teacher of the Year Finalist later this week on our site.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.