Educators respond to the State of the Union


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.

KBH McAuliffe adTuesday 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.

Lucia BaezAn 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.

Reader Comments

  1. Education is what a person or child learns every hour of every day. Until we value education to the degree it merits, we will continue to recycle “unacceptable” methodologies. A true teacher leads by example and I believe that there are so many seemingly insurmountable roadblocks in our current educational system that we need to start over and redefine “education”. Begin with the learner as the center and surround them with the best support system possible: dedicated staff, parents and teachers. Vary the patterns and content of their experience. Continually update the content. Create a strong support system for all involved ( emotional and financial). If teachers, staff, parents and students do not feel valued, there is no real motivation to perpetuate change. Our President has a sense of what needs to be done but we, the constituents, need to push for active change. Teaching is not about tests or testing it’s about learning what we need to know in a manner that we can absorb and reexplain to others. I vote for positive change and adaptations to education at all levels. It begins with those of us who value education and choose to make a difference. I know that I do.

  2. The president really needs to see that there is an attack on teachers and education as a whole. The focus really is not on the children’s needs, but adult’s needs: statistics, tests scores, numbers. Offering a superficial speech that does not explain productive changes THAT WILL TAKE PLACE doesn’t help. Our students need resources that will broaden their horizons and offer more opportunities, but the budget has limited these resources. He needs to address why students don’t value/respect education, because teachers look poor compared to entertainers and athletes. He needs to raise teacher salaries to a more reasonable level all over the country. When I ask my students what they want to be, it is rare any of them say “I wan to be a teacher.”

  3. Disappointment. In the same sentence using RTTT and Pre-K ed? Wow.
    Well at least he didn’t go into his “National School Choice Week” bit from last year. Teachers are feeling the pain of countless hours of preparing and testing children under the banner of “accountability and evaluation.” It is a tragedy, not only for the teachers, but for the very young children that are being exposed for this so called “reform.” I am more than disappointed that we have little voice for dissent through the NEA. Time to take a national pulse of your members, you are lost touch of the struggle they are in.

  4. President Obama, the guy who I believe started National Charter Schools Week, the guy who’s Sec. of Ed. continues pushing high stakes testing, the guy who’s former chief of staff closed 50 schools in Chicago, is a great speech-giver. Too bad NEA leadership and their “seat-at-the-table” priority blinds them to the fact that this president is no friend of public education.

  5. President Obama needs to focus on the real federal government issues-defense, budget deficits, and entitlement reform. He and the rest of the federal government should unstick their noses out of the education business. First they are not effective at any policies concerning schools. Secondly, the performance of American students hasn’t improved with this Administration’s testing schemes.

  6. I liked the part where kids no longer bubble in answers to a standardize test? What? I hope he has better knowledge on what his economic team is doing!

  7. I want to hear the President say he’s abandoning Race to the Top and firing Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. I want to hear him disavow public school privatization policies.

    1. Immediately fire Duncan and speak out against the lawsuit that is being heard in Los Angeles which jeopardizes the tenure system.

    2. None of the President’s education advisors are sending their children to public school.
      I have yet to hear an answer to the fact that all this talk about school choice, is choice for some.
      The education advisors of the President are generally not public school educators but politicians and policy makers. Their children are not affected by their policies.
      It appears that the intent of policy is to punish public schools and public school teachers- and the families relying on the public schools to educate their children.
      At best, all this testing teaches the children to perform well on the tests. At worst, the testing is producing 2 groups of people, those who will have a basic education and will work for those who will have a good, though education.

  8. Talk is cheat, anyone can say we need. What we need is to see all that talk turned into policies that helps not only the students but gives our country’s teachers the freedom to do their job-TEACH. If changes are not made we will lose or best teachers to other jobs. We must let our teachers teach the things are children need to be the best they can be, Not the best TEST TAKERS in the world.

    1. If teachers are being prevented from teaching that is a tragedy. I taught for 27 years and although there were many frustrations and even some limitations I was allowed to TEACH. The challenge I found was not to overcome some outside entity keeping me from teaching, but figuring out how to reach each unique student that came to my classroom. I am only now, 18 years later, learning how well I did, as I meet my former students working at the fast food restaurant, or as a receptionist at the Medical Clinic, or reading of his work at Mayo Clinic Rochester to reverse the effects of heart attacks. Of course I can claim hardly any credit for these students success or lack of it. But I WAS able to TEACH them and some return to thank me; sadly I probably don’t hear from those I FAILED to teach.

      1. The biggest thing is that we have had our hands tied and then most are stupid enough to believe that its all the teacher. I learned from above and below average teachers and most were AVERAGE. That’s the definition of average and there is nothing wrong with being average.

        I just saw on here that some kids have a hard time after living here for five or six years and their parents can’t speak English at a functional level. They could learn that from their kids. As not only an educator for over 30 yrs. but also a health care person, one of my Mexican patients told some parents that had been hear five years and wanted her to translate for them that the could get off their lazy butts and learn English like she did. We had kids in English learner programs for five and six years in CA but in AK in the Eskimo village where most homes spoke very little English kids had all classes in K and first grade in both languages and then only Eng. and math help in grades 2 and 3 and they were proficient by grade four. LEARN THE LANGUAGE!!!!

        Now for the difference in achievement among races, as one of the presenters in the first annual conference to close the gap in CA brought out, the average Asian kid in the U.S. studies 4 hrs. a day and on weekends. The average Caucasian kid studies 2 hours a day and some weekend time too. The average Hispanic kid spend one hour a day and almost no weekend time and the average African American kid is spending about half an hour a day and not on weekends studying. I coached basketball or football for 10 season very successfully and if we had four teams practicing similar hours a day as these studies show then NO ONE WOULD BE SURPRISED AT ALL when the 4 hr and 2 hr. teams played for the championship and the others were not even close to being competitive. GET A HOME PARENTS AND KICK OUT THE DRUGGIES AND LOUDMOUTHS AND MAKE AN ENVIRONMENT THAT IS QUIET FOR STUDYING AND THEN ENFORCE THE STUDY TIME. THE PARENT IS THE PRIMARY TEACHER OF THEIR KIDS, WE ONLY HELP WITH THE TECHNICAL END. If a kid goes to school K-12 and NEVER misses one minute and we never have a short day and they never get out early for a ballgame, etc. then when that kid graduates the school will have had them LESS THAN 9% of their lives! WHO HAD THEM THE OTHER 90+%!!!!!!

  9. i’d like to hear about parental responsibility and involvement. We need to find a way to engage parents in the education of their children. Academic and social progress is infinitely more difficult without a partnership between teacher and parent. What can we do?

  10. I want to hear the President say that teachers need to be paid professional wages and how that will boost our local economies, as well as keep our best teachers teaching our precious youth.

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