National Teacher Appreciation Day: Excellence in Education Awards

Posted by William Benson on 5/8/2019

Last night our community celebrated our 2019 Teachers of the Year at McCoy Commons on the campus of Elon University. I had the privilege of sharing remarks and handing out the awards at the program which is organized by the Alamance Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by chamber members. Over $50,000 in cash and other contributions were distributed.


I spoke about the National Education Association and their effort to recognize what we can do as a result of teachers. For example, I can remove a blastodisk from a fertilized chicken egg and prepare a wet mount slide thanks to Mr. Allen, my high school anatomy and physiology teacher (not that I have had an occasion to do so recently). I can play the guitar thanks to Mr. Knowles, my high school music teacher (which I do regularly).


We are able to do things as individuals because of teachers – think critically, problem-solve, communicate, draw, paint, perform – you name it, whatever it is – we most likely learned it from a teacher.


We are able to do even more as a collective, a nation if you will, because of teachers.


On May 14, 1962, National Teacher Appreciation Day, President Kennedy welcomed Marjorie French, the National Teacher of the Year, to the White House. In his remarks, the President noted that Ms. French was a teacher of mathematics, “one of the disciplines we accept with reluctance.” I find this interesting given the challenge the President would present to the Nation. The President continued, “…not only you, but all the thousands of other teachers whom the future of our country depends, we entrust our most valuable resource, our children.” A statement that is evermore so true today.


Later that same year on September 12, at Rice University, President Kennedy proclaimed “We choose to go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” I am certain we needed some mathematics (and physics) to make that happen.


By leveraging what many were able to do as a result of what they had learned, we landed men on the moon in July, 1969. We can do things because of teachers.


Also in 1962, John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in Literature (Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, The Grapes of Wrath – I can appreciate great literary works thanks to Ms. Schreiber, one of my high school English teachers.). Mr. Steinbeck had this to say about teachers, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are many great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”


We have great teachers who truly are artists of their professional craft. We recognized many last night, including our 2019 Teacher of the Year, Jessica Fitzgerald, AIG teacher at Woodlawn Middle School who has a passion for not only working with students – but for mathematics as well. Given what I know about her classroom, I am confident her students do far better than “accept (mathematics) with reluctance.”


Thank you to all of our teachers for what you do for our students – or more importantly, what you enable our students to do.