On a day set aside for National Teacher Appreciation Day, President Obama hosted 2011's National and State Teachers of the Year for a reception in the White House Rose Garden. The President thanked them for their service to America's youth, and shared the story of one of his favorite teachers.
But even after all this time, I still remember the special teachers that touched my life. And we all do. We remember the way they challenged us, the way they made us feel, how they pushed us, the encouragement that they gave us, the values that they taught us, the way they helped us to understand the world and analyze it and ask questions. They helped us become the people that we are today.
For me, one of those people was my fifth-grade teacher, Ms. Mabel Hefty. When I walked into Ms. Hefty’s classroom for the first time, I was a new kid who had been living overseas for a few years, had a funny name nobody could pronounce. But she didn’t let me withdraw into myself. She helped me believe that I had something special to say. She made me feel special. She reinforced the sense of empathy and thoughtfulness that my mother and my grandparents had tried hard to instill in me -- and that’s a lesson that I still carry with me as President.
Ms. Hefty is no longer with us, but I often think about her and how much of a difference she made in my life. And everybody has got a story like that, about that teacher who made the extra effort to shape our lives in important ways.
In addition to honoring the teachers who had come to Washington, President Obama spoke of the need to continue recruiting the very best students and professionals to become teachers if we want to keep America competitive in the 21st century economy.
And that’s why we’ve set a goal of preparing 100,000 new teachers in the field of science, technology, engineering, and math over the next decade -- fields that will give students the skills they need to compete with their peers anywhere in the world. And to help those teachers succeed, I’ve called on Congress to move quickly to fix No Child Left Behind in a way that makes it less punitive, more focused, more flexible. That means doing a better job of preparing teachers, doing a better job of measuring their success in the classroom, helping them improve in providing professional development, and then holding them accountable. Because if we truly believe in the importance of teachers, then we’ve got to help teachers become more effective.
In the words of one of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Teachers here today, and thousands like them, are surrounded every day by young people who will shape our future. But it takes a special person to recognize that. It takes a special person to light that fire, to raise our children’s expectations for themselves, and never give up on them no matter how challenging it might be.
All of us are here because at some point somebody did that for us. And so today, we are honored to recognize these outstanding men and women and all the teachers like them who have always had –- and will continue to have -– such an important impact on our lives.
President Obama wasn't the only one in his Administration to give teachers their due recognition today. Dr. Jill Biden posted here on WhiteHouse.gov about her favorite teacher in high school, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent out a video message encouraging folks to participate in National Teacher Appreciation Day. You can tweet a message using the hashtag #thankateacher.