Friday, May 2, 2014

An Executive Branch Day

A typical Thursday would see me bellowing "Salvete!  The 'Do Now' is on the board!" every fifty minutes at the start of each Latin class.  Today was a bit different.  It began at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building where the State Teachers of the Year met with key education leaders for a policy discussion.

In response to my comment about the need to maintain more than two hundred years of American heritage of well-rounded, liberal arts education, Roberto Rodriguez, Special Assistant to the President, said there was room for all subjects and that they would be using the bully pulpit to promote that well-rounded education along with STEM. I was gratified to hear such support from the federal level. At the same time, Laurie Calvert of the Department of Education pointed out that 91 cents of every dollar spent on education is local and state money. We must make sure in Indiana that we remain true to the educational heritage that has brought us this far and that will ensure our legacy of a meaningful, productive life for our citizens in the future.

From there it was a trip to the White House.  Just the walk toward this historic building was amazing, a feeling I know was shared by my friend Jeff Hinton, 2014 Nevada Teacher of the Year.

We were taken to the dining room in which state dinners are held, and after a few pictures with one of the most famous residents of the house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, we began to line up.

It takes no small amount of coordination and planning for an even that involves the President of the United States.  We had to practice taking our places in the East Room, and even though I was awed to be in the place where Presidents have made many important addresses to our nation, I could not help having a bit of fun trying to imitate our first chief executive.


Latin gives us the word gravitas, which is the root of the English word "gravity."  Gravitas is the only word that can describe the atmosphere surrounding the meeting of a President.  Oh, there were some lighthearted moments, to be sure.  I was standing next to Joey Lee, 2014 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, and we exchanged lines from Caddyshack right up to the final moment.  (For die hard fans, we did the scenes of Carl Spackler explaining his work as a caddy for the Dalai Lama and Judge Smails asking Ty Webb how he measured himself with other golfers.  I also whispered "Noonan!" to Joey once we were on the risers.)  Yet when I looked into the Blue Room and saw President Obama waiting to greet us, the gravitas settled around us.  Here was the man who holds the top position in the government of the greatest nation in the world, and I was about to shake his hand.

Peter Markes from Oklahoma, Jeff Baxter from Kansas, Matt Lawrence from Hawaii, and Bill Day from Washington, D.C. preceded me.  I handed my name card to a young officer who handed it to an aide, and then I was announced to the President.  I stepped forward to shake his hand, and he asked me what I taught.  I told him I taught Latin, and as we turned toward the camera, I said that my students wanted him to know that his name, when spelled backward, is the Latin verb amabo, which means "I will love."  He looked at one of his staff and said, "Did you hear that?"  I thanked him for his time, and then I was led to the East Room.

This time it was not a rehearsal.  My name was announced to the room that was now filled with people.  I took my place on the risers, back row, fifth from the left.  I gazed out across rows of chairs filled with family and friends of the 2014 State Teachers of the Year, elected officials, and a wall of reporters and cameras.  At last the 2014 National Teacher of the Year, Sean McComb of Maryland, was introduced, and he entered the room along with President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. 

The President offered eloquent remarks on the noble work of teachers, and Sean accepted his award with words of grace and challenge for all in education.  The entire event can be seen here.

What you have just read is a chronicle of the events of this remarkable day, but no words can fully describe the feeling of it all, not even a word like gravitas.  What I can say is that the joy of such a magnificent celebration of teaching will live long in my memory, but the true and lasting blessing are the friendships I have made with the other 2014 Teachers of the Year.  These teachers are educators of the highest caliber, colleagues I cannot wait to work with in the weeks, months, and years ahead.  Yet for all of this, the one whose face I eagerly sought in the crowd was that of the teacher I respect most in all the world, the one I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with for more than twenty five years, my wife, Melissa.

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