Podcast: Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week 2023 on Teachers in America

10 Min Read
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Welcome back to Teachers in America, where we celebrate teachers and their lasting impact on students' learning journeys and lives.

In this episode, we are joined once again by special guest Dr. Miguel Cardona, the 12th Secretary of Education of the United States. Secretary Cardona shares his 2023 Teacher Appreciation Week message and details the Department of Education's "Raise the Bar: Lead the World" effort. You can follow Secretary Cardona on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Find the U.S. Department of Education on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

A full transcript of the episode appears below; it has been edited for clarity.

The views expressed in this podcast are those of the guest and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

Noelle Morris: Welcome to Teachers in America, a production of HMH, where we celebrate teachers and recognize their triumphs, challenges, and most importantly, dedication to students. I'm the Senior Director of Community Engagement, Noelle Morris, talking to you from an elementary school's library in Middletown, Ohio.

In today's very special episode, we welcome back the U.S. Secretary of Education, Dr. Miguel Cardona. For the second time, he joins us for our Teacher Appreciation Week message. Secretary Cardona's passion is to serve all students and improve their opportunities for success. He has two decades of experience as a public school educator, beginning his career as an elementary school teacher and going on to serve as a principal and assistant superintendent, all in his hometown of Meriden, Connecticut. In 2019, he was appointed the State's Commissioner of Education, and in 2021, he was sworn in as the 12th Secretary of Education. We are thrilled to have another conversation with Secretary Cardona on Teachers in America. Now let's get to the episode and hear that appreciation.

Secretary Cardona: Hello.

Noelle Morris: Hey, Secretary Cardona, how are you? Welcome back to the show.

Secretary Cardona: I'm doing well. Glad to be back with you.

Noelle: All right. I'm speaking to you today from Rosa Parks Elementary School in Middletown, Ohio. I want to give a shout-out to the leadership team that has helped set us up, and we've been in classrooms today seeing fabulous instruction happening. So anytime you're in this area, this is well worth the trip. But it's been a year since we've had a chance to speak, and a lot has been happening. So, what have you been focused on?

Secretary Cardona: First off, shout out to the administrators and teachers in that school. It's a beautiful space you're in. I'm jealous. I would've loved to have done the interview there. It looks like a wonderful place. We've been really busy at the Department of Education raising the bar. We're pushing a campaign, “Raise the Bar: Lead the World,” where we go past reopening schools. That's insufficient. We need to reimagine our schools, and what that means is making sure our kids have access to not only recovery from the pandemic but just a better education system where they're more hands-on, or they have course selections that prepare them for life outside of school walls. We're wanting to make sure that we have better mental health supports for our schools, for our educators, for our children, and for their families, and that means engaging families and wrapping our arms around families differently.

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Through the "Raise the Bar: Lead the World" initiative, Secretary Cardona and the Department of Education aim to reimagine our schools and create opportunities for students to engage in hands-on learning.

It also means ensuring that we address this teacher shortage and teacher respect issue in this country. We can't lift our country if we're not going to invest in our educators because investing in our educators means investing in our students. Teachers have been underpaid for far too long, and we're bringing attention to that. We're actually putting policies and funding behind that as well. And then the last component of raising the bar is preparing our students for international success, career pathways that give them a chance to go into some of these careers that are coming, high-skill, high-paying careers that don't necessarily require a four-year degree. We have to make sure we're evolving our schools to provide students pathways into these careers that will exist; that'll give them a chance to compete.

And we're also promoting multilingualism because we know if you're multilingual and multicultural, it's an asset. It's a superpower. So, we want our students to be prepared on the world stage, and we're raising the bar in education at the K–12 level, in addition to the great work we're doing to try to make college more affordable and accessible and improving programs like the public service loan forgiveness. We're busy. There's a lot of work to do, and we're excited about it.

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A key focus of the Department's "Raise the Bar" effort is to create pathways for global engagement, which involves providing better opportunities for students to become multilingual.

Noelle: I'm so excited. You just said so much that in my half day of being in Middletown, I've seen starting to be in action. The buildings that they've updated, I've seen bilingualism happening in classrooms, I've seen students helping their teacher get better with her Spanish, but the classroom is taught in a way that both languages are accessible and appreciated. So exciting. I love “Raise the Bar.” HMH does an Educator Confidence Report every year, and in our latest report from this year, we learned that teachers want, and they benefit, and they appreciate that family connection. What is your advice? How do you begin to think about it from where you were in the classroom and as a superintendent, to forge and build that bridge and partnership with families from Pre-K all the way through graduation?

Secretary Cardona: Absolutely. Teachers know, and I know this, I was a fourth-grade teacher [and a] school principal for many years, that a parent is a child's first and most influential teacher. I used to tell the parents when I was a school principal that we're the supporting cast. We recognize strong partnerships with families and authentic engagement, where parents feel connected, is the best way to help children succeed. We're supporting full-service community schools, which in many ways support some of these efforts to get parents and schools connected. In my visits, Noelle, to 40 states across the country in the last couple of years, the schools that reopened the best and the schools that are really making movements with student recovery are the schools that understand the importance of making sure families are connected. And not just parents; we have grandparents and extended family members that are a part of this process. So, it's something that we want to double down on and say, "We believe parental and family engagement is critical." It's not a "It'd be great to have." It's critical to the success of our children.

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As a former educator, Secretary Cardona recognizes the importance of the partnership between families and schools.

Noelle: Now, last year, we were meeting during Teacher Appreciation Week. You had just finished [attending] the gala, meeting the Teacher of the Year, and celebrating teachers from every state. What was one of your favorite moments from this year?

Secretary Cardona: It was amazing. It's amazing. They're in the White House; I was in the Oval Office with Rebecka Peterson and her family. We did a forum with the First Lady and the Teachers of the Year from every state, and it was amazing how humble they felt. Yet they're the ones that we should be lifting up. I was inspired by them, just the dedication that they have, knowing that they represent not only their school and their city and their state but the 4 million educators across the country that are rolling up their sleeves and doing what needs to be done for students. So, for me, the focus group with the First Lady was really special because there were no cameras. We were just having an honest conversation.

And what we learned there from them is, look, we're going to continue to go to bat for our kids. We just want to make sure that, as a country, we're being respected. That's not a lot to ask for. We rolled out our ABCs of teaching. Agency for teachers. Let us respect their voice; let's respect their professionalism and their understanding of what to do for kids—that's agency. B is better working conditions. Make sure that there are social worker psychologists in schools to provide support. Make sure that teachers have pathways to job opportunities within the career of education, and make sure they have professional development. And then C, competitive salaries. Make sure we're paying our educators a competitive salary. Unfortunately, in our country, educators, teachers make, on average, 20% less than people with other degrees. So, we listened to our educators; that's the part that I enjoyed the most, and they reminded us of the ABCs of teaching.

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Last month, Secretary Cardona honored 2023 National Teacher of the Year Rebecka Peterson and welcomed State Teachers of the Year to a forum on education led by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

Noelle: Oh, raise the roof on that. I'm so excited that teachers in this part of the latest four years have a First Lady that is a teacher, understands that, and has you understanding not just from your superintendent role, but classrooms; that's so important. And I personally think agency will keep teachers in the classroom. If we were working on teacher retention, let's think about that agency; let's watch and trust. Which is why I'm so excited about what we do at HMH, which is teachers amplifying their voices, showing what they're doing in the classrooms, watching them make decisions very quickly in that moment of instruction, and also building those relationships. So, I'm so appreciative of this time with you. My last question, what is your message that we'll be seeing on LinkedIn and on all your social channels about Teacher Appreciation Week?

Secretary Cardona: We see you; we hear you, and it's not just talk. Look at our budget proposals, look at our policies, look at what we're doing to outreach the states. We're trying to raise the bar across the country, and that includes making sure we go from just talking about respecting teachers to actions. Our policy agenda and our budget, the president's budget, reflects that we're committed to this because we really believe in it. We really believe in it. And to the teachers that are out there, you continue to inspire us. You're lifting our country, and we see you; we hear you, and we appreciate you. Thank you.

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Secretary Cardona expresses his gratitude to teachers, "And to the teachers that are out there, you continue to inspire us. You're lifting our country, and we see you; we hear you, and we appreciate you. Thank you."

Noelle: Aw, thank you so much. And Vanessa shared that we should make this a tradition. So, let's think about next year. Let's find a location where we can be together, and we can celebrate the ABCs of teachers. I appreciate what you're doing, and we thank you for this time.

Secretary Cardona: Thanks for the time. Take care.

Noelle: If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on the Teachers in America podcast, please email us at shaped@hmhco.com. Be the first to hear new episodes of  Teachers in America, by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. If you enjoyed today's show, please rate, review, and share it with your network. You can find the transcript of this episode on our Shaped blog by visiting hmhco.com/shaped. The link is in the show notes.

The Teachers in America podcast is a production of HMH. Executive producers are Christine Condon and Tim Lee. Editorial direction is by Christine Condon. It is creatively directed and audio engineered by Tim Lee. Our producer and editor is Jennifer Corujo. Production designers are Mio Frye and Thomas Velazquez. Shaped blog post editors for the podcast are Christine Condon, Jennifer Corujo, and Alicia Ivory.

Thanks again for listening!

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