East Room

THE FIRST LADY: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Cardona. And welcome to the White House. (Applause.)
As I was reading through your stories, I was so impressed by the innovation and creativity that all of you bring to your classrooms every day.

Kurt Russell, our National Teacher of the Year, helps students find a sense of self worth by dressing for success.

Autumn Rivera, from Colorado — (applause) — helped her students join a campaign to save a local lake.

Jerad Koepp — where are you? — (applause) — has helped his Native American students explore their Tribal culture and history.

And the stories go on and on. But I also know that what makes your work special isn’t just the projects or presentations. It’s not the curriculum or the classroom tactics. It’s that smile that you — that tells students that they don’t have to be afraid to say and answer out loud.

It’s the calm in your voice that can still the — you know, the wild horses running through their hearts.
It’s the way that you know that sometimes “I’m fine” means everything is wrong.

It’s how they know that you’re telling the truth when you say, “It’s okay. We’re going to figure this out together.”

What makes your work so special is you: the love and the joy that you bring to it, the empathy and the understanding, the sheer power of your presence.

You do this work because it’s a part of who you are, because you have a calling. And you’re not alone.

Somewhere listening is a college student who grew up teaching her younger brothers and sisters and knows that she has a gift. A young man who took an education class and something just clicked for the first time. There’s an artist who wants to spread the joy of creating something out of nothing.

They have a calling, too, to show students an entirely new world in science or history or art, to guide them through uncharted paths to change someone’s life forever — in big, red-letter moments and small acts of kindness.

To them, I want to say: Listen to that call. Join us. Yes, you — you can change the world one student at a time. And we need you. We need more teachers. (Applause.)

I can’t promise that it will be an easy job. Right? (Laughter.) But I can promise that it will fill your life with meaning and purpose and joy.

My own grandmother was a teacher in a small town in New Jersey. And she loved her work, and her students loved her in return. And just like you might see in the movies, she used to call her students to class with a big brass bell.

And when she died, she didn’t leave behind a giant estate, but what I inherited from her — and what I still have to this day — is that bell. And I sometimes think about the way her legacy resonated into the world like waves of sound, changing those who heard its ring.

I think of every student she taught and every child who she inspired, and I wonder, like, what amazing things they grew up to do. Perhaps they are public servants working to make our communities a little stronger, a little fairer.

Perhaps they’re doctors saving lives or architects building our cities or scientists working to solve global challenges.
And, of course, there’s at least one teacher.

Today, all of you ring your own bell, pulling each person you teach into a harmony that never ends.

Right now, someone out there is a better thinker because of you. Someone is standing a little taller because you helped her find the confidence that she needed.

Someone is working a little harder because you pushed him to try. Someone is a little kinder because you showed her what that meant. And someone is braver because you helped him find his courage.

Never stop ringing that bell. Never forget that, student by student, the lives — (laughs) — now I’m getting emotional — (laughter) — the lives you change go on to change the world.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

And now I’m proud to introduce someone who has answered their call with passion, persistence, and pride: the 2022 National Teacher of the Year, Kurt Russell.

4:28 P.M. EDT

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