Prepared Remarks by Secretary DeVos at the National Teacher of the Year Ceremony

Prepared Remarks by Secretary DeVos at the National Teacher of the Year Ceremony

April 29, 2019

Welcome to the White House.

I'm grateful for the members of the Council of Chief State School Officers and their work on behalf of students. I enjoyed our conversation earlier this month and look forward to continuing to work with you on ways we can ensure every student in America has access to a great education.

And I'm always so pleased to be with teachers, especially all of you here today—the best of the best! Congratulations and thank you for all that you do for your students.

Teachers do a lot. Some of which is visible, but much of which goes unseen.

Well, I'm here to say, we see you.

We see you when you encourage a student who is discouraged or needs a little extra help. We see you when you welcome a meeting with parents who are concerned about their child. We see you when you lay out new challenges to a student who is thriving, and when you stay late to offer extra help to another student who is struggling. We see you when you try a new tactic to engage students in a lesson and, upon success, when you share it with your peers.

And I think we share the same simple philosophy: those who are closest to students know best. And our students deserve the best.

That's why I am committed to empowering students and you with more freedom.

You know better than most that none of your students are identical. Every child is unique and each one learns differently. I have four children and eight grandchildren. Even though they share a common gene pool, they are distinctly different and they thrive on different sorts of challenges. I suspect the same is true for every one of your students.

I think of something this year's National Teacher of the Year, Rodney Robinson recently said. "All kids deserve a great education. But not every kid is on the same level. So, as a teacher, you need to make sure that each kid gets what he or she needs to achieve at a high level."

You're so right, "Big Rob!"

That's why you and every great teacher should be trusted with more autonomy, honored with more flexibility, and lifted up as professionals who know your students and what each of them needs to learn and succeed.

We propose to help accomplish that. I regularly meet with excellent teachers like you who relate how their assigned professional development days are a "waste" of their time. They long to choose their own professional development and make it fit their needs. To that end, we've asked that Congress invest in what you find useful for yourselves, as opposed to what others think is right for you. Our proposed "teacher vouchers" recognize you as the professionals you are.

I also know the value of mentors or residency opportunities for young teachers. Many of your peers look up to you, and look for "teaching moments" from you to lead and inspire them. You should have meaningful opportunities to do that, and also be rewarded for them! So, we've asked Congress to invest in ways for new teachers to learn from the best—including all of you.

I'm excited about these initiatives, but I also know your ultimate reward is seeing all of America's students achieve great things. So another initiative is very exciting as well.

You may have heard about our Education Freedom Scholarships proposal. It's really for and about all kids. Not just those who were fortunate to be born in the right neighborhood or with the right last name. No, every kid needs the freedom to pursue their education in the places and ways that work for them.

Rodney, you were recently asked whether your students are "different" simply because of where they learn. I loved your answer. You said, "America is a country of second chances, and in order for them to achieve and get that second chance," you said, "they deserve a quality education like everybody else."

That's something we all can embrace. President Trump and I believe in the power of redemption. This Administration championed the First Step Act, which the president recently signed into law. And just last week, we convened folks, including Rodney, to talk about new ways to "rethink" correctional and reentry education. Our Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative is helping do just that.

As you may know, the goal of our pilot program is to highlight how removing restrictions on Pell Grants positively impacts outcomes for incarcerated students.

In the past three years, the Second Chance Pell pilot program has produced over 600 graduates with nearly 1,000 credentials. I've met some of these students. I've listened to their stories. And their resolve to move beyond their past and seize their futures is inspiring.

Your students are fortunate to have a teacher like you, Rodney. They, and all students, need more of all the great teachers here. Thank you for your dedication to the success of your students. They're better for it, and our nation is better for it.

Rodney, on behalf of the President of the United States, I'd now like to recognize you as this year's National Teacher of the Year.