Educators Honored At White House for National Teacher Day

Prince Georges County Education Association at the White House National Teacher Day event on May 5.

Prince Georges County Education Association at the White House National Teacher Day event on May 5.

To mark National Teacher Day, educators from around the Washington, D.C. region attended a White House teacher appreciation ceremony today, including a group of educators from the Virginia Education Association (VEA).

“It’s such an honor to be here,” said Jamila Johnson, a special education teacher assistant at Woodbridge High School in Prince William County, Virginia. “After so much negativity in the media and in public opinion, it’s great to be recognized for the important work we do every day.”

VEA President Meg Gruber agrees.  “It’s important today, and every day, to recognize everyone who works in our schools – it’s called Teacher Day, but we also must also recognize our education support professionals. We couldn’t be successful without them.”

Another group of educators from Prince George’s County, Maryland, combined a trip to the White House Teacher Day ceremony with a trip to Capitol Hill earlier in the day.

“Educators work so hard every day, and their jobs are so critical, we must as a nation take time to recognize them, especially in a political climate working to destabilize public education,” said Theresa Mitchell Dudley, Prince George’s County Education Association president-elect, who takes office July 1. “And what better time than a day to honor educators – when it’s our moment in the spotlight – to remind our elected officials what we really need?”

The educators spoke to staffers on the Hill about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the importance of equity and social justice in education funding.

“We always combine National Teacher Day with a lobbying day on Capitol Hill so we can remind policy makers of the impact legislation has in our classrooms,” said Jamal Miller, a Uniserv Director, a union representative for members in Prince George’s County. “This year with the ESEA reauthorization, we were able to talk about how we must provide better measurements that are more equitable, such as the Opportunity Dashboard proposed by NEA President Lily Eskelson García.

The dashboard is comprised of a range of school quality indicators, which will allow leaders to quantify and track the things that really matter to all students – especially those in low-income communities. The dashboard would indicate how much access students have to advanced coursework (such as Advanced Placement classes), fully qualified teachers, support personnel (like school psychologists and nurses), high-quality athletic and arts programs, and strong early-learning programs. This will allow parents, educators, and leaders to hold states accountable for providing students with the resources and opportunities fundamental to their success.

The ceremony, “A Celebration of Teaching,” held in the Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building, featured speakers from schools in Washington, D.C., Northern Virginia Community College, as well as a former Obama Administration education policy maker who has returned to the classroom in New York.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan provided closing remarks, thanking teachers across America, calling them “superheroes” and “nation builders,” and recognizing their role in helping ease tensions that have risen around the country by offering opportunity to their students.

“I’m convinced we are less divided by race and class than we are by educational opportunity. If we don’t create education opportunity for [all students] we are part of the problem…education has to be the great equalizer.”