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Good Afternoon, Mr. President


I last visited the White House in the summer of 1968. Richard Millhouse Nixon was president and I remember a lot of people with long hair and colorful clothes shouting in the direction of the president’s home. My father told me these people were called “hippies” and they were protesting the Vietnam War.

“Why here?” I asked my dad. He replied that hippies had a lot of time to travel and protest, and often go to places like Washington, D.C.

“Do they work?”

“No,” my father answered.

I thought being a hippy was a pretty good lifestyle, with lots of opportunity to travel and no need to work.

I was 9-years-old at the time and the White House appeared large and off-limits to ordinary people. My mom and dad took many pictures of my brother and me standing in front of the president’s beautiful house, separated by a tall wrought iron fence and a deep green lawn. I wondered if President Nixon was looking out his window at the hippies and me.

Forty-one years later I was finishing my last security search before entering the White House to meet President Obama. I passed through a metal detector and my wife and mother-in-law were asked to surrender their pocketbooks. A secret service agent escorted my family to the Roosevelt Room and we were instructed to wait there until taken to the Oval Office. The regal wood paneled room is filled with portraits of Theodore and Franklin, each president glancing at the other from opposite walls. I was admiring a painting of then Colonel Roosevelt charging up San Juan Hill when a White House aide asked for a copy of my Rose Garden speech. I had only one copy tucked inside my suit jacket and was reluctant to part with it. The young aide politely assured me that he would make a duplicate and place the original in a nice binder. “You don’t want the wind blowing away your speech while standing at the podium, do you?”

“No,” I answered. The image of the speech flying away from the podium and me chasing scattered pages on the Rose Garden lawn only added to my anxiety. I thought about how popular "National Teacher of the Year Runs After Speech" would be on YouTube.

The secret service agent returned to inform me that in exactly 11 minutes I would be escorted through a locked door at the far end of the Roosevelt Room, cross a narrow hallway, and then enter another locked door leading to the Oval Office. He stood then with his back against the wall, watching my family and glancing at his watch.

“Seven minutes,” the agent called out.

“Three minutes.”

“One more minute, Mr. Mullen.”

This was the moment I had been dreading for the past few weeks. What if I meet the president and say something stupid? What if I walk to the podium in the Rose Garden and become paralyzed with stage fright? What if….

“The president will be delayed,” the agent said. “You will meet him in 12 minutes.”

Twelve minutes? Could the president’s schedule be so precisely calculated? I took a deep breath and leaned my right shoulder against the locked exit door. The extra time may relax my nerves. Good afternoon, sir. Good afternoon, Mr. President. God afternoon, President Obama. Did I say God afternoon? I’m getting tongue twisted just thinking about meeting the president.

“Where’s the bathroom?” my father-in-law asked.

Bathroom? How do I know where the bathroom is? “Hold it in, Joe,” I said.

“But I need to take a leak.”

I told to my father-in-law the Roosevelt Room had no bathroom.

“What about the president’s office?”

“The president’s office? You want to take a leak in the Oval Office?” Not only am I getting tongue twisted thinking about how to greet the president but I also have to deal with an aging bladder.

I was just about to tell my father-in-law that he would probably not be permitted to use the president’s private bathroom when the door I was leaning against opened and a man shook my hand.

“Welcome, Tony!”

I turned around and was face-to-face with the president of the United States of America. What happened to the 12 minutes? Where was my Secret Service escort? I stood speechless staring at the president.

“Welcome, Tony,“ the president repeated. “How are you?”

“Fine, Mr. President…very well.” I replied.

I was astonished to be shaking hands with the president and somewhat confused. The last close encounter I had with the president was standing next to one of the many life-size cardboard images of the president that clutter the streets of the nation’s capital, and didn’t protocol dictate I be escorted to meet the president? I should have been taken to the president and instead he comes to me; the most powerful man in the world came to greet a teacher.

The president welcomed my family to his home and invited us to the Oval Office. The First Lady and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stood in front of the president’s desk; wide smiles brightened their faces. My mother-in-law and Mrs. Obama talked about children and grandchildren, the president and secretary of education talked about basketball with my teenage son, and my father-in-law looked for a bathroom.

The president emphasized the important role teachers played in his life and how these teachers instilled confidence in him at an early age. The president and his wife posed for many pictures with my family and made us feel very comfortable in an office filled with so much history. My family was then escorted to the Rose Garden and I was left in the Oval Office with President Obama and Secretary of Education. We stood in front of a beautiful set of French doors, three men wearing suits and gazing upon the crowd outside. The president turned to me and said, “You know, Tony, this will be my first speech in the Rose Garden.”

I nodded my head politely and did not know what to say. Was the president providing a quick fact or letting me know that his first Rose Garden speech was set aside for teachers? And then I looked at the president and saw a pair of warm and intelligent eyes. I also saw the face of my students, particularly a student named Tyler who had an African-American father and Caucasian mother. I decided to break the silence.

“If it’s any consolation, Mr. President, this is my first speech in the Rose Garden and I speak after you.”

The president smiled and placed his arm around my shoulder. “Let’s do it!” he said. The president of the United States placed his arm upon the shoulder of a teacher and walked with me to the Rose Garden.

Beautiful. Simply beautiful.


Tony, congratulations on earning the Teacher of the Year! What a great privilege to meet the president. I apologize that my comment has nothing to do with education, but I have always wondered about the president's schedule and what meetings like yours would be like. Is it just small talk about the weather, education, sports, etc or does he really want to know who Tony Mullen is and what his story is? How much time were you and your family able to spend with him or Arne Duncan? What things did you talk about? Did you feel that he with his immensely packed schedule and agenda that he was able to be completely interested in you and your story?

A charming story, Tony--full of insight, warmth, and humor. You're going to be a great blogger, I can tell.

Tony --

Hi Debi from CT PTA wishes you all the good things that come with this wonderful recognition that you so deserve. Thank you so much for your speech at this year's CT PTA convention in April and your inspiring stories about your great students. They are who we all work for and we appriciate having you to lead the way. Thank you.

Hi Tony,

I was honored to be with you on that special day. Although the other State Teachers of the Year were in the Rose Garden and not in the Oval Office, rest assured that we were looking for a bathroom, too!

It was a wonderful day, a historic day with a historic President, and we'll remember it, and your words to the audience, forever.

I'm looking forward to reading your travels!

NC Teacher of the Year 08-09

Hi, Ryan.

The president was very interested in my story and the plight of students leaving our nation's schools; he also stressed his desire to help stem the tide of dropouts. He and the secretary of education spoke about the need to provide a quality academic or vocational education for all students. Both the president and Secretary Duncan were very sincere in their remarks. Thanks for the comment.

Congratulations on receiving this recognition. Coming from South Africa where teachers are not recognized nationally for their work, I feel that I have been so fortunate to teach in a country which focuses on the role of the teacher. The "Noble" profession of teaching has not lost its message, the message seems to be have lost its meaning. We are, as teachers, vocational in our work and enjoy the challenge we are given each day we step into our classrooms.
Congratulations and continue your great work in inspiring other teachers and teachers to be.

A great start to a great year. I look forward to reading all of your posts, Tony. Thanks for representing all of America's teachers with grace, enthusiasm and a sense of humor. If you can handle teenagers, meeting the President should be a piece of cake.

HI, Elizabeth and Debi!

Thank you for your comments. I hope and pray that I may be able to advocate for teachers and students in my capacity as NTOY. The title implies something that I am not: the nation's best teacher. That honor cannot belong to one person; the many unsung teachers that work hard each and every day to teach and mentor our nation's children are the truly great teachers. I hope I can help be their voice. As for parents? They are the most important factor in a child's education. That is why a productive parent/teacher combination is critical to our education system. Thank God for PTAs.

Wow. What a wonderful experience. I, too, am a special education teacher. I truly believe that President Obama is one of us. I was just reading a chapter on family in his book, Audacity of Hope, where he really talks about the trials and tribulations of real life in a two income family. I would love to hear to speak.

Thanks for opening the school year for us at Hampshire Regional in Westhampton, MA. You were a big hit and a great way to start the year.

Thank you all for the kind comments. It's such a blessing to be able to communicate with so many wonderful teachers!


Thanks. Speaking to the faculty and staff of Hampshire School District was a very enjoyable experience.

Great story...congratulations on being honored as teacher of the year. Thanks you for representing us as people who provide hope and instill courage in the children of America.


Your relatives in Tallahassee are very proud of you and will enjoy reading about your travels during this school year! Best wishes to you all, Tony!

What a wonderful real story. Congratulations on winning the award and I hope that you have much success this year. Come up to Canada and share your toughts!

Congratulations on your award. I too am teaching struggling/reluctant teenagers and look forward to reading your insights and strategies about teaching.


Thank you Tony for sharing such a wonderful story on your special day. Thank you even more for representing us this year. Congratulations!

Hi, Elizabeth, Deb, and Elona!

Thank you for taking the time to comment; I appreciate reading your comments because dialogue is so important among teachers.

I do hope to be invited to Canada to speak. We share so many common goals.

All the best,


Thanks Tony! It's just awesome and a great tribute to you and the school system we both teach in. It's ironic that we get to read this on the day the President delivers his speech to our nations school children. Too bad Greenwich Schools chose to sensor the President and not allow our students the opportunity to view him live or not as they choose. Ironic also given you are the National Teacher of the Year. Thanks for being an inspiration to us all.


I literally had tears streaming down my face reading your blog, as I laughed hysterically! I love your father-in-law!!! But as I read the last paragraph and the last line, my tears were tears of love, admiration, joy and honor for you, our nation's National Teacher of the Year, your students, all teachers, all of our students and for the President of the United States.

You have restored my faith and hope in American values. No matter how we feel about politics, we must all come together for our nation's children and show them through our mature actions, respect and dedication that we value them and their futures...PERIOD!

You are truly my inspiration, Mr. Mullen. This story was GREAT!

Thank you for ALL that you do!



Thank you for for "being there." I hope that you will appreciate my thoughts about the president's speech "The kids are alright." The art of politics and rhetoric must never come above what teachers are trying so hard to do:teach and mentor children.

So nice to hear about your "day" with the President. It was a special day for educators everywhere. While we were all there we all took away something different from the experience - but we al recognized a President who values education!

Thanks for reminding us all!

Tony -

Omedetto Gozaimashita! (congrats in Japanese!) Thank you for sharing your Rose Garden story. Whether or not I agree with everything that is or will become the Obama presidency, I truly admire that man - he just has a way of inspiring and making us all recognize our humanity. I hope I have the privelege of meeting a sitting president one day.

I look forward to checking back on your blog and seeing where your adventures take you this year.

Thank you for all the work you do.

Guidance Counselor

Hi, Lindsay.

Thank you for taking the time to share your kind words. And thank you for performing the critical role of guidance counselor. You are the important link between high school, college, and career.

All the best,


"If it's any consolation..." That was simply beautiful. Let me put our state on your wait-list...after Canada, maybe Alaska? Not just Anchorage, but come to Fairbanks, too (no crickets in winter here). I teach at an alternative charter high school and look forward to stories and strategies...your blog was an instant inspiration---beautiful.

Great information thanks for sharing this with us.In fact in all posts of this blog their is something to learn.I wish I had found it sooner. Keep up the good work.

Anna Marie,

I would love to come visit your school and thank you personally for working at an alternative high school. Thanks for the kind remarks.


oes tsetnoc

Thank you very much. I am glad you enjoy the blog.


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