Select educators from Baltimore celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week in a presidential way, attending this year's National Teacher of the Year awards at the White House on Tuesday.
Teachers, including Maryland Teacher of the Year Ryan Kaiser, were there to see President Barack Obama award Jahana Hayes, a high school social studies teacher at Waterbury, Conn., as National Teacher of the Year.
Kaiser, who teaches at Mount Washington School in Baltimore, was moved by Obama's words.
"You could see he just really kind of touched on each point. Everyone in the audience was nodding [their] head," Kaiser said. "To just sit there listening to him, it was kind of like a moment of realization of how important the work is that all teachers do. It was a moment so full of emotion that it was hard to even grasp that I was even there."
Christina Ross, a 10th-grade government teacher at City Neighbors High School, and Tiffany Whitaker, a social studies teacher at Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School, were nominated by education policy nonprofit Teach Plus to attend the ceremony. Joe Manko, the principal at Liberty Elementary School, was also in attendance.
"It was really neat to see so many fantastic educators being highlighted. It was very inspiring as a teacher," said Ross, who has taught in Baltimore for two years.
State Teachers of the Year from around the country were introduced at the beginning of the ceremony. Kaiser, who was recognized as the best teacher in Baltimore last April and as Maryland Teacher of the Year for the 2015-2016 year in October, received tons of cheers from his Maryland colleagues, Ross said.
"It was neat seeing teachers being celebrated the way we celebrate rock stars," Ross said.
Teachers were treated like VIP at the reception, which included food and wine, and music by members of the band Fun. Attendees also had the chance to tour the East Wing of the White House, Ross said.
"On normal tours, you can see the rooms, but we got to go in the rooms and sit on the furniture," Ross said with a laugh. "I teach government, so I was just in awe. You felt very special."
Overall, Ross said it was a great way to honor a profession that she loves and sees as rewarding.
For Kaiser, it was just one highlight of a week focused on education and innovation at the White House. Kaiser and other Teachers of the Year were invited to a series of meetings and tours promoting teacher leadership, professional development and education advocacy throughout the week, he said.
On Sunday, the festivities kicked off with a cocktail hour at Vice President Joe Biden's home in Washington. On Monday, the teachers toured the Smithsonian museums, including the Natural Museum of History, where Kaiser helped brainstorm ways to include local students in archive projects. On Wednesday, the teachers met at the White House to discuss science, technology, engineering and math education — also known as STEM — and ways to incorporate it across all disciplines, Kaiser said. While the week in D.C. ends for the teachers Friday, but there are still exciting events planned for Kaiser and the other state Teachers of the Year as they finish up the latter part of their journeys.
The group will travel to Alabama in the fall to attend United States Space Camp and will meet again in October at Princeton University, Kaiser said.
Because of his award, Kaiser said he's been out of the classroom a lot this school year, but he has been sharing the experience by sending his photos to his students and his family of five back home.
"It would have been a heck of a lot of fun to have them experience this with me, but they understand the importance of it," said Kaiser, who took his class to Italy and Greece during their spring break this year.
Kaiser — though only halfway through his journey — said he can't wait to bring back all that he's learned to Baltimore.