In a Rose Garden ceremony on Wednesday before noon, April 29, 2015, President Barack Obama celebrated 55 finalists, teachers from around the country for the excellence and contributions to teaching the nation’s children. President Obama however, gave only one “crystal apple” to the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, Texas high school English teacher Shanna Peeples. After the award ceremony Obama and Peeples went on a stroll, where the president went loose walking a block to the local tea shop, the Teaism where they picked up some take out lunch, and surprised presidential correspondents meeting at the shop.
At the event, Obama praised Peeples and the other teacher finalists, saying, “They are not just teaching formulas or phonetics. They’re selling hope – sparking imaginations – opening up minds.” The president said the National Teacher of the Year Award is “our chance to say thank you” to the leaders of America’s classrooms.” Obama indicated, that the country’s teachers “deserve our support and our appreciation and they also probably deserve higher salaries.” The President joked, “I thought I’d editorialize a little bit.” Concluding Obama expressed that “America’s future is written in our classrooms.”
This year’s National Teacher of the Year has been teaching for the past 12 years. Peeples now teaches at Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas at a school, where many of her students are refugees from Iraq and Somalia, among other war torn countries. Peeples’ students mostly are immigrants or only know English as a second language; she teaches English in the morning and mentors new teachers in the afternoons. She is the first teacher to win the award from Texas since 1957.
Peeples came to teaching late in life as President Obama noted, “Now, according to Shanna, she wasn’t always a teacher. In fact, she tried everything else she could before she finally accepted her destiny. She was a DJ — I want to hear more about that … She was a medical assistant. She was a journalist, a professional pet sitter. Finally, she realized what she was always meant to do — and that’s helping young people discover the joy and power of words.”
The president praised Peeples at the ceremony, recounting, “Many of her students face challenges that would overwhelm adults, let alone kids.” Obama said, “About 85 percent are considered economically disadvantaged, many are refugees from places like Iraq and Somalia.” The president commented, “Shanna’s classes provide them a safe haven. And in Shanna, they find somebody who protects them fiercely and believes in them deeply.” Continuing Obama expressed, “America is hungry for more teachers like these, which is why we have to acknowledge them. Every school has teachers like these, and we don’t give them enough credit.”
With the ceremony finishing around noon, and lunchtime the president decided to go rogue with the newly awarded teacher. They went on a stroll going straight out of the White House grounds. President Obama and Peeples went to restaurant and tea shop a block away from the White House, where Obama treated Peeples to a hot tea, while purchasing a mint tea for himself. The president seemed to relish the freedom telling onlookers, “Good to see you. I’m taking a walk. It’s a beautiful day.”
The public was not the one ones who caught Obama on his stroll, where the president is the press is sure to follow. White House correspondents were have a meeting at the Teaism, those following the president were not allowed in the shop, but those at the meeting took advantage snapping photos and tweeting their “breaking” news. Jeff Mason, White House Correspondent for Reuters tweeted, “Was just sitting at Teaism with a bunch of journalist colleagues for a meeting and Obama walks by (and then in.).” While Carol Lee, the White House Correspondent for the Wall Street Journal tweeted, “Having a WHCA mtg at Teaism and look who happened to venture out for tea w teacher of the year…”
Breaking out of the White House has become a habit of President Obama blame it on spring fever. Last year when Obama did the same he said the “The bear is loose,” which has become the long running joke, for the president semi-spontaneous outing into the normal world. Josh Lederman of the Associated Press made the joke on Twitter, writing, “Loose bear alert: Obama is at Teaism, having lunch with the teacher of the year. My suggestion: Salmon bento, double broccoli.”
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.