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Honoring Teachers at White House

By Christopher J. Steinhauser
Superintendent of Schools

I was absent from our school board meeting this week, but I had a good excuse.  I had been invited to the White House to speak about the importance of teachers and education.  The occasion was President Obama’s annual National Teacher of the Year award ceremony.  This year, the top award went to Connecticut teacher Jahana Hayes of John F. Kennedy High School.

My assignment was to address the 400 or so dignitaries and educators in the East Room of the White House as they waited for the President to arrive.  While the day focused on teachers, the fact that I was invited to speak at this national event was a testament to what we’ve all accomplished together through the years – steady gains in achievement thanks to all of our employees, students, parents, school board members, higher education partners and many other friends in the community.  I was honored to represent our beloved school system.  Here is what I said:

“Good afternoon.  It’s a great honor to be here with all of you today as we recognize exemplary educators.

“Like many of you, I’ve devoted my life to education.  I began working as a teacher more than 30 years ago at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School in Long Beach, California.  That’s where I met my wife, who continues to teach in the same school system.

“I could not have been more proud when my son told me that he wanted to become a teacher.  Now he teaches in Long Beach, where I’ve served as superintendent since 2002.  More recently my daughter applied to start student-teaching this fall.  So if I ever need a quick reality check about the challenges that teachers face today, I have a ready and willing sounding board close at hand.

“In Long Beach we’ve worked hard to close achievement gaps and prepare more students for success in college and careers.  I am personally grateful to President Obama and his administration for supporting our work and allowing our schools greater flexibility to innovate.  We have also worked with this administration on initiatives to better serve students of color, and to improve college access through the Long Beach College Promise and now America’s College Promise.

“Key to all of our success in Long Beach is our collaborative work with our more than 3,000 teachers.

“Our teachers help to create our curriculum, assessments and professional development.  While they are the leaders of their classrooms, they also help to lead our entire organization on a path of continuous improvement.  And ultimately, our teachers impact so many young lives in significant and lasting ways.  Today we reflect on the importance of teachers everywhere, and we thank them.

“Like many of the students in our school system, I was the first in my family to go to college.  When I was a child, my siblings and I would pile into the family station wagon, and my parents would drive by California State University, Long Beach.  Mom and dad would point at the college campus and say, ‘That’s where you’re going after high school.’  That was their version of the College Promise.  Sure enough, that’s where I went to college.

“Mom and dad understood the importance of education, even if they didn’t have a college degree.  They had high expectations (though they could not predict that I might some day deliver remarks at the White House).

“But this is the perfect setting to celebrate great educators and discuss education, which has been essential to America since the very beginning of our story.  Public education is a pillar of our democracy and is central to the idea that people in this country have a chance at a better life, if they’re willing to work hard and apply themselves.  Providing such opportunity is important to us as educators, and I know that it’s important to President Obama.

“Thank you for joining us as we recognize some of America’s best educators.  We look forward to hearing from the President shortly.”

View video of President Obama’s presentation at whitehouse.gov.