President Obama’s top order of business late this afternoon at the White House was to congratulate Waterbury teacher Jahana Hayes and acknowledge that it is time to empower all teachers with classroom flexibility and give them the respect they deserve.
Mrs. Hayes was named National Teacher of the Year late last week. “Jahana sees grace and possibility in each student. Because she sees it, they begin to see it,” he said.
According to President Obama, particularly impressive is that Mrs. Hayes inspires her students to give back with community service. “That shows her students the power and influence they can bring to bear on things around them.”
She knows that if students know their worth, then exam scores and college acceptances will follow, he said. Mrs. Hayes stands “as proof that we can’t set expectations high enough. There is magic in our kids,” the president emphasized.
Before taking the podium at the White House ceremony today, Mrs. Hayes thanked the state teachers of the year from around the country joining her. “I am honored to be joined by these amazing educators,” she said.
Mrs. Hayes told the nation that teaching is about the passion and joy of giving back to others.
President Obama made direct reference to the nation’s current obsession with testing. We need accountability, he told the state teachers of the year assembled at the White House, “but that does not have to mean having you teach to the test.”
Obama elaborated, “We have listened to teachers who have shown why cookie cutter solutions don’t always work. We’re empowering states and communities to set their own standards for progress, with accountability. And because nobody thinks our students need to spend more time filling in bubbles on standardized tests, we’re starting to give educators like those behind me the flexibility to spend more time teaching creatively than they’re spending teaching to a test.”
Mrs. Hayes said the nation is at a critical point in attracting and retaining teachers. She plans to “lead the charge and change the dialogue.” She also wants to start a national discussion about how we can all do better for our kids. “It truly does take a village,” she said.
Obama also expressed concern that in too many states, education is being underfunded. It is the job of governors and legislatures “to step up,” he said.
The president had strong words about teacher compensation.
He explained that not one of the teachers at today’s ceremony to mark National Teacher Appreciation Day choose this profession “because they were promised a big paycheck or a short workday. You do need to be paid better, that I believe.”
He added, “We should pay teachers more because what they do is invaluable and essential,” saying that teachers should and need to feel appreciated.