Photo above: President Barack Obama waits with Sergeants at Arms and Members of Congress before entering the House Chamber to deliver the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 28, 2014 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
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On Tuesday President Obama delivered his State of the Union address where he called for a “year of action” to help create opportunity for all. Check out reactions from math teacher and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, a Florida high school teacher and a Virginia middle school special education teacher below.
Kellie Blair Hardt, Prince William County, Virginia. Middle School Special Education Teacher. Manassas City Teacher of the Year, NEA Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence.
Tuesday night I didn’t get home until 7:00 pm. I had a long day of teaching 8th grade special education students and I had promised Maria, a former student of mine who is now a high school sophomore, that I would tutor her in Biology after my workday. Maria and her family are a priority for me. When Maria was my student in middle school, I mentored her beyond academics to become a proud Hispanic student with learning disabilities. Maria’s mom and dad are immigrants, they work low paying night shift jobs and are not fluent in English. I made a promise to them years ago that I would be Maria’s education advocate and help assure her academic success in high school and eventually higher education. I do not charge a fee to tutor and mentor Maria; I do it because I love being an educator.
I missed dinner with my own family Tuesday night to fulfill the promise I had given her family. I was tired when I finally got home and thought perhaps I would skip out on listening to Obama’s address and just catch the highlights on the news in the morning. That thought only lasted moments as I walked through the door of my home and my 6-year-old daughter exclaimed, “Mommy, President Obama is going to be on TV. Remember when I met him and he shook my hand, and I told him my mommy is a teacher?” Of course I smiled, and quickly was reminded of why I became a public education activist and I needed to tune into the State of the Union Address.
As I sat on the couch tired but ready to listen, I hear this: “Today in America, a teacher spent extra time with a student who needed it, and did her part to lift America’s graduation rate to its highest level in more than three decades.” Goosebumps formed on my arms, tears formed in my eyes. I was quickly reminded why I support my President.
President Obama continued to motivate me by his remarks about the importance of expanding early childhood education and making higher education more affordable. When Obama stated that “Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education,” and spoke of partnerships with states and communities to promote access of early education I was hopeful. I am hopeful that these partnerships and coalitions will address the issue of child poverty as a contributor in education gaps and more educators are involved in the creation of any policies.
As a mother of a 6 year old who received early childhood education, I can attest to the benefits of such programs. My daughter reads above her grade level and already understands the importance of her own education and wants to be a teacher. That motivates me too, to keep pushing forward and advocating for her and the millions of children in America.
Today I hold my head high as an educator and NEA member. I am proud of the advocacy that our association achieves. I believe Obama successfully spoke of the need for all Americans to advocate and invest in actions that create opportunities of equality for us all.
NEA President and math teacher Dennis Van Roekel’s video response
Lucia Baez, Miami Beach, Florida. High School English Teacher, 2013 NEA Political Activist of the Year.
An undecided future rests in our hands, and our capacity to fulfill our destinies is not only available, but is our duty. To be the best at what we do, to learn the most we can about our interests, to achieve to the highest degree according to our field, these are what will make us all Americans because as the president said, “Opportunity is who we are.”
Opportunity, though, is who we always shall be by firmly committing to making a better, more free, world for our future generations. In every appeal to the American people, the President touched upon the need for ingenuity, self-reliance, and expansion — the kind of expansion that our forefathers could only dream about. The President asked us to build and invest wisely in our greatest asset, ourselves, and to do so, he placed the onus of the responsibility in our hands.
We face an uncertain future, and the real question is who will determine our direction in the incoming year? The President identifies key elements to our success, and they all boil down to partnerships and innovations. In essence, individual freedom from economic and social constraints makes us all, as a collective, better, and so we must move forward together toward that goal.
The President asks us to establish our legacy, and he asks each of us to imprint onto the sands of our shores the indelible mark of our work, of our sweat, and of our dreams. We do not work at the expense of our health, our education, and our family, though; we work to be equal, to have the same opportunities offered to us regardless of race, class, or beliefs. The President believes in a world where we are all equal, and he believes in the power of our country to once again restore a balance amongst the people of this great nation.
Our education system is weaved into the fabric of our national narrative, and although briefly, the President alludes to the need for us to reform our education system. Working hard and leaving a legacy in the realm of education means finally providing true learning to students who may not know that there are opportunities for them. Emerging as one nation means opening up the doors of a bright future by nurturing our students’ capacities of mind and of heart. And, finally, it is only in truly embracing the foundational ideals of this country that we will have freedom to pursue our destinies. The pursuit of happiness is a right we are guaranteed, and so it is time we focus on what we need to move toward more people actually finding it.