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'There Is No More Important Job': Trump Meets With Nation's Top Teachers

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Updated

President Donald Trump thanked teachers for their dedication in a short speech in the historic East Room of the White House on Wednesday. 

He was speaking to a crowd of renowned teachers and their family members. The teachers had all received their state's highest honor in 2018. The National Teacher of the Year, Mandy Manning, stood behind Trump as he delivered his remarks. 

"Each of you has dedicated your lives to our nation's single most important resource, our children," Trump said. "Teachers like Mandy play a vital role in the well-being of our children, the strength of our communities, and the success of our nation. The job of a teacher is not only to instruct the next generation of workers but the next generation of citizens—to teach our children to care for others, to think for themselves, to love their country, to be proud of our history, and to be true pillars of their families and their communities. Such an important job. There is no more important job."

"Your tireless dedication doesn't just inspire your students, it inspires all of us, and I can tell you it inspires me," he said, before presenting Manning with the glass, apple-shaped trophy. She wore several buttons on her dress, including one that said Trans Equality Now, one for the Women's March, and one of a rainbow-colored apple.

Manning said on a press call that the pins were meant to convey her message of support for all of her populations of students. "[Our students] are wanted; they are loved; they are enough; they matter," she said.

Manning teaches newly arrived immigrant and refugee students in Washington state. She told Education Week that she had her students write letters to the White House to share their stories—from bureaucratic red tape splitting up families to being told to "go back to Africa." 

"I think that it is imperative that the president goes out and sees things that maybe he hasn't seen before ... because that will provide him with some perspective, and it might change his perception," Manning said last month.

Manning delivered some remarks to the crowd before Trump was in the room. Traditionally, the National Teacher of the Year is given a few minutes to address those at the gathering, including the president.

Before Trump's speech, the teachers of the year each had a moment with the president to take a picture and exchange a few words.

Manning said she hand-delivered the 45 letters from her students to the president. Trump asked an aide to make sure the letters made it to his desk and told Manning he would read them, she recalled.

Jonathan Juravich, an art teacher in Ohio who was a finalist for National Teacher of the Year, said he told Trump, "I teach my students about respect and empathy, and as adults, we need to model those behaviors for our students."

Trump, Juravich recalled, responded with, "That's great. I like that."

Kara Ball, an elementary teacher from the Department of Defense Education Activity and another NTOY finalist, said Trump thanked her for her service. She told him she would be honored to take back to her students a challenge coin for military members. He made sure she had a coin by the end of the day, Ball said.

Earlier this week, the teachers had a 30-minute roundtable discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. At times, the exchange grew heated, such as when the Oklahoma teacher of the year questioned DeVos on school choice. 

Since 1952, it has been an annual tradition for the teachers of the year to meet with the president. The ceremonies are typically grandiose—for example, in President Barack Obama's last year in office, he hosted a ceremony for the renowned teachers in the East Room, and pop singer Nate Ruess performed. 

Last year, Trump hosted the teachers of the year in the Oval Office. That gathering made headlines for how much more informal it was than in previous years—Trump remained sitting during his brief remarks, and the 2017 National Teacher of the Year did not deliver a speech. The Washington Post reported that family members were not permitted to join the teachers in the Oval Office, and that several teachers felt disrespected by the event

This year, the glee club from W.B. Patterson Elementary School in Washington, D.C., performed before Trump's speech. DeVos also attended the ceremony. 

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated who spoke at the event. Manning spoke during the first half of the ceremony, before Trump arrived. 

Image: President Donald Trump presents the National Teacher of the Year award to Mandy Manning, a teacher at Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash., in the East Room of the White House on May 2. —Carolyn Kaster/AP

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