Obama Recognizes Defense Department Teacher at White House
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 24, 2012 President Barack Obama today recognized a Defense Department teacher for the first time as a finalist in the National Teacher of the Year competition.
Angela Wilson, one of four finalists for the 2012 National Teacher of the Year, poses with her husband, Chance, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in Washington, D.C., April 23, 2012. The Wilsons are teachers with the Department of Defense Education Activity in Vicenza, Italy. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
During a White House ceremony, Obama recognized Angela Wilson, a seventh-grade English teacher for the Department of Defense Education Activity at Vicenza Middle School in Vicenza, Italy, among four finalists considered for the 62nd annual competition. While paying tribute to teachers everywhere, the president announced Rebecca Mieliwocki, a Burbank, Calif., seventh-grade teacher, as the National Teacher of the Year.
“A lot of important people visit the White House,” Obama said during a ceremony in the mansion’s East Room, “but to young people in classrooms around the country, nobody is more important than the men and women that we honor here today.”
The president said he was honored to have Mieliwocki, Wilson, Gay Barnes of Alabama, and Alvin Aureliano Davis of Florida at the White House.
“These are the kind of teachers who change lives forever,” Obama said. “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for teachers like these who challenged me, and pushed me, and put up with me, and inspired me -- and set me straight when they had to. And I think everybody here can say the exact same thing.
“Teachers matter,” he continued. “That’s why I often tell young people: If you want a guarantee that you're making a difference every single day, become a teacher. A teacher is the key to a child reaching their potential.”
Teachers not only help individuals achieve the American Dream, they also keep the United States the best in the world, the president said, standing alongside Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
“We’ve all got something at stake here,” Obama said. “Our parents, our grandparents -- they didn't build the world’s most prosperous economy and the strongest middle class in the world out of thin air. It started with a world-class education system. That was the foundation. And in the long run, no issue will have a bigger impact in our success as a country and the success of our citizens.
“So every day, when teachers like you put in long hours, or dig into your own pockets to pay for school supplies, or tweak lessons so they’re even better than they were last year, you’re not just serving your schools or your students, you’re also serving your country,” he continued. “And you’re helping to preserve the basic promise of America: that no matter who you are, where you come from, what you look like, what your last name is, you can succeed. You can make it if you try, if you put in the effort.”
Biden hosted a reception for the finalists last night at the vice president’s residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory here. The “second lady” has continued to teach at a community college since moving to Washington with her husband.
Biden began her address by reflecting on her life as an instructor and public servant. After the election, she said, "I said to Joe, ‘I'm going to continue to teach because I have to do what I love.’" So four days after inauguration, she said to much applause, "I was in the classroom."
While the finalists were honored at the White House today, Biden said, “I will be in the classroom." It is the fourth year the Bidens have hosted the finalists for the competition sponsored by The Council of Chief State School Officers.
"I want to say thank you for all that you do because you are the best of the best," Biden said.
Wilson agreed, telling American Forces Press Service in an interview today, “The teachers I’ve met here will blow anyone away. They are the most dedicated individuals I’ve met in my life.”
Although she didn’t receive the top billing, Wilson said she had an amazing week packed full of training events and meetings, including meeting individually with Obama, Duncan, and Biden, whom she said demonstrated their commitment to both education and military families.
“They do value education, you can tell,” she said.
Wilson said she enjoyed Obama’s sense of humor, and sharing classroom strategies with Biden to help students from military families, and she looks forward to meeting with Duncan later this week to discuss the administration’s educational policy initiatives. “They want our input,” she added.
Wilson, whose husband also is a DOD teacher, said she supports the administration’s efforts to raise respect for the teaching profession.
Of all her experiences, Wilson said, what she most wants to share with her students is the support they have from the highest levels of the U.S. government.
“It’s really neat to be with the Department of Defense because there is such a love of the military from these leaders,” she said. “I will definitely bring back their love and admiration for the military community. I think that’s really powerful for the students.”
Asked what she would most like to share with other teachers, Wilson said, “The key for any student, but especially for military students, is to get to know them. Form that special connection to your students.”
For many children, including military children, she said, “school is a home away from home” and may be their most stable environment. “We need to look beyond test scores, we need to look at the whole child -- their creativity, innovation, social and emotional needs. There’s so much to the whole child, yet how do we evaluate teachers? We just look at the test scores.”
Military children, she continued, “are some of most resilient, flexible, adaptable students you’ll ever meet. You can make the biggest difference in their lives by finding what inspires them. Military children have so much to give … learn from them, value them and get to know them.”