President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hosted a White House ceremony Monday to recognize the 2021 and 2020 national teachers of the year, the state teacher finalists for those years and teachers nationwide, all of whom had to work longer and harder during the pandemic.
The president was a surprise guest, walking out onto the South Lawn after the first lady, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and both national teachers had spoken at the ceremony.
Biden said teachers are the “single most consequential people in the world," beyond one's parents, because of the influence they have over their students.
“What you do really matters, and it matters in a way I don't think you all fully realize,” he told about 100 teachers seated in white folding chairs on the lawn.
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The teachers were being honored for excellence in teaching at the Council of Chief State School Officers 2020 and 2021 State and National Teachers of the Year Ceremony. The ceremonies usually are held annually earlier in the year, but were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cardona said the upside was a “two-for-one deal this year.”
Jill Biden, who continues to teach English at a local community college in addition to being first lady, said she was influenced by her grandmother, a teacher who taught in an old-fashioned, one-room schoolhouse crammed with three grades of students.
She said she sometimes went to school with her grandmother, who would let her ring the brass bell that summoned the students to class.
“I thought if I could do what she did, if I could set just one student on a better path, that would be really special," said the first lady, who has taught for more than three decades.
She nodded to the challenges the COVID-19 crisis presented for teachers after schools were shut down to help contain the virus, including teaching through a computer screen and adapting lesson plans to students who were learning from home.
“We're all here today because someone ... taught us, inspired us and showed us what we could be," the first lady said.
Juliana Urtubey, a special education teacher at Kermit R. Booker, Sr. Innovative Elementary School in Las Vegas, is the 2021 National Teacher of the Year. The first lady surprised Urtubey in her classroom on live television in May 2021.
Tabatha Rosproy, a preschool teacher at Winfield Early Learning Center in Winfield, Kansas, is the 2020 National Teacher of the Year.
President Biden presented both teachers with awards shaped like an apple.