President Obama today praised the nation's top teachers as he honored the Teacher of the Year, a Washington state teacher recognized for transforming his hometown school and peaking students' interest in math and science.
In a Rose Garden ceremony, President Obama thanked winner Jeff Charbonneau, a chemistry, physics and engineering teacher at Zillah High School, for his leadership.
"Twelve years ago, when Jeff decided to return to his hometown to teach, Zillah High School had no engineering curriculum. The science curriculum was lagging. Kids had to go off campus for technology classes, and the computer resources were, frankly, pretty poor," Obama explained. "But Jeff was determined to turn that around. He wanted to convince kids that something like quantum mechanics wasn't something to run away from, but something to dive into."
Now, thanks to Charbonneau's help, science enrollment is up and students are graduating with college-level science credits.
The president also praised the heroic teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School who fought to save their students' lives during the December massacre in Newtown, Conn.
"We saw the true depths of a teacher's commitment when six educators were killed trying to protect the children they embraced as their own," he said. "In those moments, those brave teachers showed the world what they do is more than just educate kids. They embrace them and they nurture them and they love them."
The president joked that teachers don't go into the profession "for money" or the "light hours and the easy work." They walk into the classroom every day "because they love doing what they do, because they're passionate about helping our children realize the best versions of themselves so that our country can become the best version of itself."
"I want you guys to know that the country appreciates you. The kids appreciate you. The parents appreciate you. What you do matters," he said.