President Obama honored Minnesota 2014 Teacher of the Year Tom Rademacher and 54 of the nation's other Teachers of the Year at the White House Wednesday.
The annual ceremony took place in the sunshine of the White House Rose Garden and featured a speech from this year's National Teacher of the Year, Shanna Peeples, an English teacher in Amarillo, Texas. The president met every state's honoree, including Rademacher, an English teacher at the downtown Minneapolis FAIR School.
"America's future is written in our classrooms," Obama said as the teachers stood on the steps behind him. "We all depend on our teachers, whether we have kids in the schools or not. They deserve our support and our appreciation."
"And they also probably deserve higher salaries," he added, to applause from the audience.
The Teacher of the Year program is run by the Council of Chief State School Officers, which chooses a National Teacher of the Year from the pool of state titleholders annually. The national honoree steps out of the classroom for one year to become an ambassador for education worldwide.
Rademacher has had a busy year since being selected Minnesota's Teacher of the Year last May, speaking at events for teaching programs throughout Minnesota.
But he isn't a stranger to speaking out. Rademacher does it frequently on his Twitter and Tumblr pages, writing about topics ranging from education policy to inequities in the classroom and his personal motivations for teaching. During the rioting following the Ferguson grand jury decision in November, Rademacher discussed the events with his students, who come from diverse racial backgrounds, and then tweeted their thoughts. It garnered some national attention.
"The system that we have is not structured to serve all the kids that we're supposed to serve," Rademacher said. "So the teacher job is to bridge that gap between what you're asked to do and what you know you need to do for your kids."
FAIR School Superintendent Keith Lester, says Rademacher is not afraid to discuss issues of race and equity and connects easily with students — qualities that make him a standout teacher.
The critical thinking that results from Rademacher's teaching will help inform the next generation of American leaders, said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.
"Tom Rademacher doesn't just teach English — he constantly asks students to think critically about community today and around the world tomorrow," Ellison said.
Whenever he has a break from speaking engagements and is back in the classroom, Rademacher said he is reminded why he does it all.
"It's been really great when I get to go back in and get re-energized by the energy and the brilliance my kids have," he said.
Rademacher's trip to Washington has been a flurry of activity that he's been looking forward to since receiving the title last spring. He attended a wine reception at Vice President Joe Biden's house; he and his wife, Laura, met with Ellison and his staff for more than an hour; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., popped out of a hearing to say hello to him. Thursday's agenda includes a meeting with Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
Rademacher's tenure as Teacher of the Year is nearly up; Education Minnesota announces its 2015 Teacher of the Year winner this weekend.
"I can't wait to see what the next person's year will be like," Rademacher said.