This was no ordinary classroom, and these were no ordinary teachers. Monday afternoon I found myself in the office of the Vice President of the United States surrounded by four of the best role models any parent could hope for: The winner and three runners up of the National Teacher of the Year contest. Second lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden hosted the intimate roundtable.
Their classroom expertise touches on everything from preschoolers with autism to high school physics, their passion and dedication from East Coast to West. Meet our new school rock stars:
Teacher of the Year: Jeffrey Charbonneau, a chemistry, physics, and engineering teacher at Zillah High School in Zillah, Washington. Charbonneau also founded and oversees the Zillah Robot Challenge, where teams compete to assemble and program robots, is a yearbook advisor, and drama assistant director.
Finalist: Rhonda Holmes-Blankenship, an English teacher at Rising Sun High School in North East, Maryland. Holmes-Blankenship sees her greatest contribution in building relationships with students who need support to bridging the gap between their family backgrounds and college and career aspirations.
Finalist: Alex Lopes, a pre-K special education teacher at Carol City Elementary School in Miami Gardens, FL. A Brazilian by birth, Lopes is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. He embraces the opportunity to educate children who come from diverse backgrounds and are also English language learners.
Finalist: Heidi Welch, a music teacher at Hillsboro-Deeing High School in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. A former “Music Teacher of the Year,” Welch has conducted the Boston Pops orchestra and both her chorus and band programs perform at Disney World.
Clearly they know their way around smart boards and periodic tables.
But a bigger challenge for this crew is the need to educate moms and dads. When it comes to communication, “we’ve learned that it’s not what works for us as teachers, but what works for the parents,” explains Lopes, who strives to “create a bridge between the classroom and home.”
Welch notes that although her job is in the band room, she reaches out to algebra and English teachers to create a support system for her students, so multiple team members are working together to keep them on track, even when they might not have the support at home.
It’s this sort of extra effort that Dr. Biden—a lifelong teacher herself who was back in the classroom just days after her husband’s inauguration—hopes to promote. “I know how hard teachers work. The national conversation around teaching has to change. We’ve been hearing more negatives than positives. It’s time to celebrate them and their profession,” she emphasized.
National Teacher Day is coming up on May 7. What do these four classroom wizards want parents to do to show their appreciation? Don’t panic—no late-night baking or math skills are required.
Here are four simple homework assignments for you. And remember to thank a teacher:
- “Don’t limit the possibilities for your children. Allow them to try things you think they might not be good at, and when the going gets tough, convince them they have the ability to do it.” —Jeffrey Charbonneau
- “Remember that it’s not just about good grades. You want to foster a love and appreciation of learning something new.” —Rhonda Holmes-Blankenship
- “Expose them to cultural and linguistic differences, to help them learn from and with each other.” —Alex Lopes
- “Give them all the love you can at home. That love and support will give them the confidence they need to succeed.” —Heidi Welch
Do you have any inspirational teacher stories? Let us know.