Teaching Profession

President Trump Won’t Meet With National Teacher of the Year at the White House

By Sarah Schwartz — April 26, 2019 3 min read
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[UPDATED 4/29 5:55pm: President Trump did meet with the teachers at the White House today, Rodney Robinson said on a press call with teachers after the event. The teachers were invited to see him in the Oval Office after hearing remarks from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.]

National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson is headed to the White House on Monday, along with this year’s state teacher of the year winners, to be recognized in an annual ceremony. But when the 57 educators arrive, President Trump won’t be meeting with them.

“It is our understanding that the President will not be in attendance and that Secretary DeVos will present the award to Mr. Robinson,” said Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Council of Chief State School Officers, which administers the National Teacher of the Year program. The event will still be held on the White House grounds, Rodriguez said in an emailed statement, as it has been every year since the program began in 1952.

In recent years, the president has traditionally received the award winners. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all honored the National Teacher of Year winner every year that they were in office. And in 1991, George H.W. Bush went one step further, flying the Marine One helicopter to West Virginia to recognize that year’s winner, Rae Ellen McKee, at Slanesville Elementary where she taught.

But Rodriguez said that it is not unprecented for the president to miss the ceremony. “We know of at least nine instances in the history of the program where someone else, such as the Vice President or First Lady, have handled the recognition,” she said.

“It is up to each administration to decide how to recognize the teachers, and it has varied throughout the 67-year history of the program in location and who has delivered the recognition to the National Teacher,” said Paul Ferrari, the senior program director with the NTOY program, in a statement.

An Unorthodox Approach

President Trump has made headlines in the past two years for an unorthodox approach to the National Teacher of the Year recognition ceremony.

While President Barack Obama held formal ceremonies in the White House’s Rose Garden or East Room, in 2017, Trump met with the teachers in the Oval Office. He remained seated during his address to the teachers, while the National Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, did not make any remarks (traditionally, the award winner delivers a speech). The teachers sang Happy Birthday to First Lady Melania Trump, whose birthday was on the day of the ceremony.

The family members of the state teachers of the year, who in past years had been invited to attend the event, were told to wait at a building near the White House, in what they described as “hot rooms,” the Washington Post reported.

Last year, Trump hosted the event in the East Room. He didn’t join the gathering, though, until after Mandy Manning, the 2018 Teacher of the Year, had already addressed the teachers and attendees at the reception. In the past, the national winner has had the opportunity to deliver remarks in front of the president.

Robinson, a social studies teacher who works with students in juvenile detention in Richmond, Va., spoke with Education Week about his hopes for the White House recognition ceremony on Wednesday after he won this year’s award (before he knew the president would not attend).

He said he wanted to speak with President Trump about prison reform and supporting education for incarcerated students. The Trump administration recently held a forum on the issue, and has highlighted it as a priority.

“I think we need to get rid of the stigma that no learning can take place in the juvenile-justice system,” Robinson told Education Week. “Kids come in with the opportunity to reset and refocus.” Governments have a responsibility to adequately fund these education programs so that students can make the best of that opportunity, he said.

Image: President Donald Trump presents the National Teacher of the Year award to last year’s winner Mandy Manning, a teacher at Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash., in the East Room of the White House on May 2, 2018. —Carolyn Kaster/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.