HM - May 2016 - Pinos

The History File


2016 National Teacher of the Year Award Ceremony

Dean Pinos
New Trier High School
NCHE Board of Directors
Northfield, IL

Last week I had the pleasure of joining fellow NCHE Board Member, Nathan McAlister, in attending the National Teacher of the Year ceremony at the White House. Several hundred passionate, dedicated teachers gathered to honor one of our peers and to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. We were all captivated by our surroundings. We snapped photos of one another and exchanged stories as we were treated to a concert from the band Fun. While we mingled on the State Floor awaiting the formal presentation, I took note of all the presidential portraits hanging in the corridor: Clinton, Reagan, Carter. Inside the East Room, the State Teachers of the Year assembled on the stage along with Jahana Hayes, the National Teacher of the Year. Ms. Hayes described her experiences as a young, single mother who struggled to find her way through school. With the support of her teachers, Ms. Hayes went on to college and today gives back to her students as a history teacher at Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Connecticut. She encouraged us to build communities of learners and reminded us of our responsibilities to the students we serve.

President Obama then took to the stage to thunderous applause. He was witty, charming, and spoke eloquently on the need to support teachers. He discussed the selfless nature of the profession and the care and compassion that we provide to students on a regular basis. As uplifting as his speech was, it was also an admission of the challenges that teachers face. He noted the challenges of teaching in an era of high stakes testing. He discussed how we must recruit and retain more minority candidates into the profession. He acknowledged how teachers work long hours for relatively little compensation. Much remains to be done and the challenges, while not insurmountable, are daunting.

As I left the East Room, I stumbled on to another presidential portrait that I had not noticed previously. Hanging just outside the State Dining Room, the portrait of President Kennedy was a stark contrast to those of other Presidents. While other leaders struck a pose of confidence and optimism, Kennedy stood in quiet contemplation. The painting, completed in 1970 by Aaron Shikler, was commissioned by Mrs. Kennedy. I felt the weight of history resting on Kennedy’s shoulders but was, at the same time, reassured by his willingness to wrestle with ideas and to think deeply on matters of grave concern to the nation. He would not break under the magnitude of the crises he had to confront.

“John F. Kennedy”
By Aaron Shikler
Image Courtesy of the
White House Historical Association

The challenges that we face on a daily basis are many. Our students struggle academically and emotionally. We are confronted with a profession, at times, under siege. I am heartened, however, by the amazing work that teachers do on a regular basis to help students and families. I will also take a cue from President Kennedy who said: “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” I intend to confront the challenges of our profession with a sense of resolve, purpose, and optimism.