Teachers rarely receive national attention which is why the annual ceremony acknowledging all states’ Teacher of the Year honorees is so significant.
For 65 years, these gifted instructors have been showcased at the White House hosted by the President.
If you are a teacher, it is a moment to cherish. This year, it was a moment to forget.
Last week, President Trump hosted the teachers in the crowded Oval Office, the favorite room of his where he greets paeans, remaining seated as if he was a king on his throne. Also in the room was Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, an anti-public education advocate, all making nice smiling for the pool cameras.
Remember, Trump lambasted public education in his inauguration speech as a system that “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.” This came from the same paragraph lumping education with poverty, job loss, and crime as part of the “American carnage.”
Yet there he was reading from a TelePrompTer about how valuable teachers are.
The entire ceremony took barely five minutes.
Compare this to the forty minutes former President Barack Obama shared with last year’s winners.
Obama relished this annual event, treating it as more of a celebration than a static photo op. Last year’s ceremony was held in the East Room to accommodate more people, with the teachers standing on risers so that they all are clearly seen.
Obama is announced at the same time as Jahana Hayes, the 2016 Teacher of the Year, allowing her the spotlight and the lectern first to deliver a four-minute speech, about the same amount of time given to this year’s entire ceremony.
Not only does he personally hand the Crystal Apple award to Hayes, but tells a story about her so that the public can gain an insight to what makes her such a special educator.
This year’s Teacher of the Year, Sydney Chaffee, lost among the crowded pack of educators surrounding Trump, wasn’t given an entrance, wasn’t allowed to give a speech, and had very little said about her.
Standing to Trump’s right, Trump barely looks up at her, quickly pats her arm, then awkwardly holds the Crystal Apple himself smiling at the cameras as if it were meant for him before giving it to Chaffee.
He doesn’t shake her hand, he doesn’t stand up to hand the award to her, he doesn’t say anything about her except her name, what she teaches, and where she works.
Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss discovered that very few relatives of the teachers were allowed in the Oval Office; most “who had traveled at their own expense for many hours to attend were left to wait in a building near the White House.” Even Chaffee’s husband and daughter “were kept waiting in a hallway before being allowed to enter the Oval Office.”
In fact, the video does not appear on the official White House website link of “events” videos.
One video that is featured came a week earlier showing Trump welcoming this year’s Super Bowl champs, the New England Patriots. Their ceremony happened in a larger arena on the South Lawn with more observers and media in attendance.
Trump spent 16 minutes with the team, underscoring how some people care more about the champs on a football field than the champs in the classroom.
But not Obama as evidenced by what he said:
“Part of the reason this event is so important is for us to be able to send a message to future generations of teachers, to talented young people all across the country to understand this is a dream job; that this is an area . . . where you have the potential to make more of a difference than just about anything you can go into.”
If only Trump did his homework and plagiarized even a bit of Obama’s remarks as his wife did copying Michelle’s. Then again, to paraphrase his comment about healthcare, who knew that honoring teachers could be so complicated?