By Alana Margeson
April 22-27 was Recognition Week in Washington, D.C., for all State Teachers of the Year. Although I read the week’s agenda more than once before boarding the plane, I cannot say that I was fully prepared for the magnitude of the experience. I am only now beginning to process just what it meant to me, personally, and what it meant for the elevation of the noble profession of teaching.
My high school history teacher showed up at the Presque Isle airport the morning of our departure, saying to me proudly, “I saw you through high school. I’m going to see you off to meet the president.”
This emotional moment set the tone for the entire experience. I was surrounded by 53 innovative, inspirational and articulate educators from all over this nation. I heard a moving speech delivered by Dr. Jill Biden, an educator of 30-plus years, in an intimate setting in her home. I took a class at the Smithsonian and shook hands and received a thank-you from Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education.
Our sponsors treated us like rock stars, complete with gift bags and a personalized chartered bus to take us all over the city. Wednesday evening was an unforgettable gala at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a beautiful structure to see if you are in D.C.
Oh, and we were able to meet President Obama. He was so charismatic and welcoming (read: he’s a hugger!!). Did I mention it was an emotional week?
Many of you may have seen Rebecca Mielwocki, the 2012 National Teacher of the Year from California, in her first interview on CBS This Morning. Her speech at the White House was eloquent and instilled such pride and such hopefulness. For any educators reading this, we could not ask for a better representative of our profession.
I would like to close my reflections of this fairytale week with thoughts I have on elevating the teaching profession. On Thursday, April 26, the Teachers of the Year were invited to the Department of Education for roundtable discussions centered around the RESPECT model. The goal is to work with educators in rebuilding the profession — and to elevate the voice of teachers in shaping federal, state, and local education policy. This model focuses on elevating the profession to the level of respect and prestige it deserves.
This leads me to my final thought.
One evening in D.C., my husband and I ventured with our friends to a rooftop next to our hotel. When exiting the elevator, we were told that the rooftop banquet rooms were all rented out and that our view would be limited. As we got back in the elevator, a man from one of the private parties entered in his three-piece suit. Being social, I asked him if the party was, by chance, for him. He said no, and asked if we had attended as well. We informed him that we were teachers visiting the city, and that no, we had not been invited.
“Teachers?” he asked. “Oh, well, no, this party was for someone important. It was for a man retiring from a very well known company after 35 years. Trust me, he is very important.”
With that, he exited the elevator first.
There are two things I would like to point out:
- This man may have very well been important. But teaching is, in the words of our own Secretary of Education, the most important profession in America. May we never forget this.
- The aforementioned important man had most likely not spent his morning at the White House being recognized by the President of the United States. Just saying.
Alana Margeson, an English teacher at Caribou High School, is Maine’s 2012 Teacher of the Year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.