Prepared Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to the Council of Chief State School Officers' National Teacher of the Year Gala

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Prepared Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to the Council of Chief State School Officers' National Teacher of the Year Gala

April 27, 2017

Good evening, and thank you Chris, for that kind introduction.

Before we begin, I'd like to thank CCSSO for hosting this event. Your Teacher of the Year program – the oldest of its kind – is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the best teachers our nation has to offer.

I'm delighted to be here and to honor these worthy teachers.

Each of the teachers recognized tonight are widely admired in their schools and across their states, because of their lasting impact on students. Indeed, I'm sure each of you also has one or more teachers who inspired you as you grew up.

I have several, including my mother, who was a first grade public school teacher. ...

With my own children, it was Hr. Hoogstrate – or "Mr. Hoo" as he is known – their 5th grade teacher. He is unbelievably creative, and always found new and engaging ways to challenge his students.

Great teachers give of themselves so that students get what they need to learn. Late nights, early mornings, long weekends – whether you're poring over papers, or offering one-on-one help, you're there for your students.

Teaching is a selfless calling; you are serving the needs of others. And that is what makes your work so critically important.

We must do more to affirm the important role of teachers in our society. Because let's face it: teachers are the foundation of every other profession.

Teachers shape our nation's future directly. You are educating the rising generations of leaders, thinkers, inventors, entrepreneurs and artists. You are helping to launch the problem-solvers and innovators of the future.

Tonight is an important opportunity to recognize your vital role, and this year's finalists are first-rate examples.

They've each demonstrated their passion in different ways. Chris Gleason of Wisconsin started the Kalahari Band Festival for his and seven other schools' bands, so that these students could "see themselves as musicians, rather than music students." Nine years later, the Kalahari Band Festival now extends to 54 middle schools over four states, with nearly 3,500 students participating this year.

California's Megan Gross has co-authored two books, ParaEducate and The Inclusion Toolbox, as guides for new and veteran special education teachers alike. Megan knows that a child's unique needs shouldn't be seen as challenges, but as opportunities, and that with the proper instruction every child can grow and thrive.

In Baltimore, Sia Kyriakakos has transformed her school – the largest in the city and known primarily for its athletics—into a school with a world-class art program that gives students an avenue of expression only the arts can inspire.

I'd also like to give a shout-out to Tracy Horodyski from my home state of Michigan. She's a reading interventionist and literacy coach at Zinser Elementary in Kent County, and it's her work that fosters that most important of skills: the ability to read.

These examples only scratch the surface of the great work each State Teacher of the Year engages in every day. Can I ask every State Teacher of the Year here to stand up? We all acknowledge and celebrate you. Thank you very much for your work.

And let's all give a big round of applause to Sydney Chaffee, who last week was named National Teacher of the Year.

Sydney is in her tenth year at Codman Academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where she teaches ninth grade humanities. She's the first national winner from the state of Massachusetts, as well as the first winner to teach at a public charter school. Sydney's commitment to her students is the foundation of her success, and I know she will do a fantastic job as an advocate for the teaching profession over the next year and well beyond.

I thought one student's quote about Sydney encapsulated why she is so beloved by her classes. As 10th grader Hayley Horton said:
"Sydney has taught me a lot of things, not only about writing, reading and history; she also taught me how to have self-worth, to be happy, and to be independent. Sydney feels like women and young ladies should show their beauty with their hearts and not their looks... Sydney is my role model, teacher, friend, supporter and more."

Hayley's testimony shows just how much Sydney invests in and cares about her students each and every day. And the students' love for their teacher Ms. Chaffee stems from her own philosophy of what makes a good teacher. As she said in a recent interview:

"A good teacher is someone who wants to build relationships with students, who keeps students at the center of everything that they do, and who constantly works to get better."

She's absolutely right. Sydney's student-centric philosophy, her commitment to empower students and her focus on continuous personal improvement have propelled her to being recognized as the top teacher in the nation.

Thank you, Sydney, for believing in your students and igniting in them a love of learning that will help them flourish and grow long after they have left your classroom.

Sydney is a living example of the positive influence a teacher can have in the lives of students. As educators, you have the opportunity-and-responsibility to inspire our children to acquire the knowledge to succeed. It is a critical role; one that cannot be assumed by just anyone.

Debates in Washington and in state capitals often consider students as numbers, statistics, or data. But students aren't numbers; they're people. They're people with unique gifts and unlimited potential. Each student has challenges, problems and fears, and you are there to help them as they navigate these realities.

One-size-fits-all solutions never work for any student in your classrooms, so why should we think they will ever work at a larger scale? Every student is different, so we should not then insist that their challenges can be addressed with the same solution or answer. You know this reality – and you live it every day.

You know how to educate your students. That's why I see my job as getting Washington out of the way, so that you can do yours.

Parents entrust you with their children each school day. They trust you to mold and motivate their child, just like Mr. Hoo did for mine.

The teachers kids truly love and respect aren't the "easy" ones ... they're the teachers who have high expectations for each student, who ignite in them the passion for learning, and who paint a picture of possibility for each of them.

How amazing would it be to replicate that reality in every classroom?

I know that all of the educators here this evening are advocates for the profession. So I encourage you – in the same innovative and creative ways that you serve as advocates for your students, every day – to share your best practices with your fellow teachers and to lead by your example – in word and deed.

When we met earlier today, some of you extended me the invitation to visit your schools, and I hope to visit as many of you as I can in the near future. I want to spend as much time in schools as this job will allow, because I believe that as policymakers, all of us – superintendents, state and local leaders, members of Congress and this Administration – should make a point of soliciting the input and experiences of our best teachers. You have the most direct connection to students in the classroom, and you will bring fresh perspectives to the table.

This is the real beginning of our work together. We may approach our work on behalf of students with the benefit of different life experiences; and we have each faced different obstacles along the way. But the variety of perspectives only enhances our chances of getting education right on behalf of all students.

We may not always agree on specifics, and that's ok. But I will always welcome the ideas of anyone who genuinely seeks to improve education for each and every student.

Our kids represent 100 percent of our future. I know you join me in committing 100 percent of our efforts to ensure they have the opportunity to succeed. The rising generation deserves nothing less.

Thank you, and congratulations again to Sydney and all of the other State Teachers of the Year.