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Secretary Cardona’s Remarks on Teachers at the University of Tennessee with the First Lady, Knoxville, TN

Thank you!

First of all: that marching band looks awesome.

It’s a joy to be here in Tennessee. You’re known as the “Volunteer State” for a reason. Tennesseans stepped up to help – you helped our country, you volunteered. And that’s what Tennesseans are all about.

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to have Dr. Biden with us.

We just finished a school visit. And the energy there was amazing, to see the respect that educators have because they realize there’s a teacher in the White House. How cool is that?

Look, as a former fourth-grade teacher, I can tell you: she gets it!

We’ve all been impacted by teachers. Teachers shape lives – we know that.

I remember as a little seven-year-old second grader, having an art teacher, Mr. O’Neill, a teacher of color. I looked up at him and thought, “I want to be like Mr. O’Neill.”

And then years passed. I remember being in high school. At that point, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.

I wanted to be the first generation in my family to go to college, but I didn’t really know.

And then I had a teacher – Ms. Ransom – tap me on the shoulder and say, “You know what, Miguel, I think you’d make a good teacher.”

It was a teacher that pushed me in the right direction.

And I think of my first day as a teacher. I was so excited to set up my bulletin board. I put up a thing that said, “let the journey begin,” and it was a rocket ship going up.

And boy, what a journey it’s been. It’s the best profession!

So, let’s be really clear: when we talk about a teacher shortage issue, shortage is a symptom of a teacher respect issue.

And that issue has been around for much longer than the pandemic.

Too many of our teachers are feeling unsupported. Unrecognized. Unappreciated.

We see it in how teachers are paid.

There are some states where teacher graduates earn 33% less than their college counterparts. That’s unacceptable. We’ve normalized that.

But I’m glad to say Tennessee ranks above the national average for paying teachers a livable wage. And I’m hoping Tennessee can build on that!

We see it in our teacher diversity: over half of our nation’s learners are students of color, yet fewer than one in five are teachers of color.

And we see it in how supports fall short for too many educators.

Lack of professional development opportunities. Few chances to take on leadership responsibilities while remaining in the classroom. Inadequate preparation and mentorship.

That’s why we’re so thrilled to be here today – because what you’re doing in Tennessee is a big deal.

You were the first state to launch a registered teaching apprenticeship in the country.

And then you built even more grow-your-own programs through intentional partnerships between high-quality educator prep programs and school districts.

We know our paraeducators and teacher’s assistants – they’re there because they want to help children. Let’s support them to become our next teachers.

It’s an incredible model. I think about it like “running through the T” for teachers: it’s a structured pathway that helps you get prepared and supported when you get into the field.

Put it another way: you’re not going to recruit Peyton Manning and not give him any coaching while he’s here, right?

Why are we doing that with superstar teachers? We can do better. You’re doing better.

You learn from mentors and those who are supporting you along the way.

Apprenticeships don’t stop at recruiting teachers; they provide them with the on-the-job practice that will prepare them for success – while building in the coaching that will make it more likely that they’ll stay in the profession.

Tennessee is leading the way. I want to give a shout out to Dr. Penny Schwinn, who is really just leading the nation on these issues.

And she knows this, and I know this: this would not be possible if it weren’t for the support of President Biden and the leadership to provide the American Rescue Plan. We call it ARP.

Tennessee is using over $20 million of ARP funds to raise the bar around teacher preparation: to be bold and create sustainable change.

This is a moment of truth for how we treat our teachers. But it’s also a moment of opportunity to recognize our education system, our teachers, our students, our families.

So, let’s give teachers what I like to call the ABCs of teaching.

A stands for agency and autonomy – let their voices be heard. They know what they’re doing; their professionals. Agency.

B: better working conditions. Professional development, pathways. And make sure they’re not teaching in classrooms that are 95 degrees.

C – competitive salaries. We know our educators have options. Let’s make sure we’re paying them a livable wage. It’s unacceptable for our teachers to have to work two to three jobs to make ends meet while they’re serving our children and helping our country grow. That’s unacceptable.

ABCs of teaching.

Let’s put more money in their hands through historic student loan relief, including our Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. If you haven’t applied yet, you have until October 31 – check out studentaid.gov/PSLF!

Let’s embrace intentional partnerships and grow-your-own programs.

And to anyone thinking about becoming a teacher: you will never forget that joy of helping a child realize their potential, like those teachers who I still stay in touch with today that tapped me on the shoulder and said “I see something in you that you don’t even see.”

For those of you thinking about going into the teaching profession: it’s not a job. It’s an extension of your life’s purpose.

Our nation needs you now more than ever.

So, if teaching might be your passion, I tell you: we’ve got your back. Let the journey begin!

Now, it’s my pleasure to introduce someone who is a shining example across the country of what teachers could do at their very best.

Put your hands together for Dr. Melissa Collins, Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year!

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