Welcome back to Teachers in America, where we celebrate teachers and their lasting impact on students' learning journeys and lives.
Join us today as we welcome our special guest, Dr. Miguel Cardona, the 12th Secretary of Education of the United States. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Find the U.S. Department of Education on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Educators can also visit studentaid.gov to see if they are qualified for loan forgiveness.
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, sacrifices, and most importantly, dedication to students. I'm the Senior Director of Community Engagement, Noelle Morris. Y'all, I'm so excited. In today's very special episode, we celebrate teacher appreciation and are delighted to be joined by Dr. Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education.
Secretary Cardona spent two decades as a public school educator. He started his teaching career as an elementary teacher before serving as an award-winning school principal for 10 years. Secretary Cardona then transitioned to lead the work of performance and evaluation in his district before assuming the role of assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. Before being sworn in as the 12th Secretary of Education in 2021, Secretary Cardona served as the Commissioner of Education in Connecticut. In this position, he led safe school reopening efforts and focused on equity by arranging for student access to technology to support remote learning, helping the state become the first in the nation to provide learning devices for all students. We are thrilled to have him join us on Teachers in America. Now, let's get to this episode.
So, Secretary Cardona, I just have to tell you ... Well, first, let me tell you my name is Noelle Morris, and I'm the host of the Teachers in America podcast. But as a former educator, former classroom teacher, I'm just so honored to have this time with you today.
Secretary Cardona: Thank you.
Noelle: I can't even tell you how I have been trying to prepare. Like, do I call him Dr. Cardona? Should I just say Miguel? But I'm going to say, Secretary Cardona. This is a gift for me and for our listeners of the podcast.
Secretary Cardona: Happy to be with you, Noelle.
Noelle: Thank you. Thank you. This is an exciting week for teachers. It's such a special week, right?
Secretary Cardona: It is.
Noelle: Everybody loves to be appreciated, so this entire week of teacher appreciation—what do you want to say to teachers?
Secretary Cardona: Ah, geez, where do I start? What I want to say is, "I see you. I appreciate you. You inspire me, and that we're here in Washington, D.C., making sure that in everything that we do, we're listening. And we're using teacher voice to drive the urgency around the needs of our students, the needs of our profession. And we're trying to lift the profession, so keep doing what you're doing. You're inspiring us here in D.C."
Noelle: Well, that's so special. I think teachers [need to know] that they are seen and, most importantly, heard. It has been a challenging two years for the entire world, the entire country. But as someone who's talking to teachers every single day, I know we share that passion.
Secretary Cardona: Right.
Noelle: What have you seen as you have been talking to teachers and traveling? What are you hearing have been some of their challenges, and what is the Department of Education doing to support those challenges, and how can teachers find those resources?
Secretary Cardona: Sure. What I'm hearing from teachers is, number one, they need to feel appreciated. As you said, they need to feel heard, and they need to feel appreciated, and we're listening. I visited 32 states, met with teachers in every one of those states, and we're making sure we're bringing teachers into the department to share their experience. So, they're being heard by us. We're also putting money where our mouth is, right? The president put forward $130 billion in American Rescue Plan. Unheard of, unprecedented, the amount of money that went toward education, because he recognizes the importance of making sure our schools can safely reopen and that they have the tools that they need to meet the students where they are.
What I'm hearing from teachers is that our students need help, that they're not okay, that while masks are off doesn't mean we're back to normal. That there are greater mental health needs for our students, and that they're struggling and that they need more resources. They need more support. They also say they need more training. They need more professional development on things like trauma-informed practices or helping students with their emotional needs.
Well, I'm proud to announce a $65 million grant as a result of what we heard from teachers for SEED, which is basically an educator development program. And so, the money's out there. We're taking in applications so that districts could support professional development for teachers in different and new, exciting ways, or create pipeline programs to help bolster the profession and get more teachers into the profession. So, we're listening; we're acting.
I also want to plug the Public Service Loan Forgiveness. I want the teachers who are listening to go to studentaid.gov. We've widened the net of people that could take advantage of it because the program was so mismanaged in the past; we had to change things up. So, what we're doing is we're asking teachers, "If you've been in public service," not just teachers, principals, para-educators, "if you've been in public service for at least 10 years, you might be able to have your loans forgiven." So, go fill out the information that you need to fill out because you might get a nice surprise at the end of it, which means whatever loans you have for education, they might be wiped out.
So, we want to honor our teachers by more than just saying, "Happy Teacher Appreciation Week," and showing up with a cup of coffee or some donuts. Listen, we need to honor our teachers in real ways, showing them respect by giving them a good salary, making sure they have good working conditions, and listening to them when they're telling us what their students need.
Noelle: Wow. When I look back at my first year of teaching, first of all, it's a miracle that I am still in the profession because Dr. Cardona, I will tell you, without the right mentors, without the right [people] pointing me in the right direction ... I remember getting my Pell Grants covered because of where I had dedicated my teaching profession. What a relief that was, so I am appreciative that we're listening to teachers; we're going right to them, not asking others, "How do you think teachers feel and think?" And what a gift to have money dedicated to professional learning and supporting bringing people to the profession, and most importantly, helping them keep and stay in the journey. That's my passion. That's one of our passions.
Secretary Cardona: Good. Well, you know how it's been, right? So, you have all these new things that are coming, and you get three days of professional development, and then you squeeze it into that. Or, you have an hour after school, and you're supposed to become experts. We need to really revisit that model, make sure that we're using some of these federal funds to support better professional learning opportunities for teachers, and also give them a pathway to higher education or to continue with their learning. You know, every educator that I know, every day, they're learning something new, and they're contributing so much, so it's time that we put some money behind it to support them.
Noelle: Well, thank you. And I can't wait to hear from our listeners on how they're using that information and sharing and giving it back and paying this information forward, because that's the other thing: teachers can support other teachers. That's one of the things that we're also learning in this whole Teacher Appreciation Week, the opportunity to celebrate each other and just keep being that advocate. Just thrilled. I'm just sitting here going, "Wow, okay. There's a lot to learn there, and I want to unpack that."
I know sometimes when we're listening to them, listening to teachers, and we're in their classrooms, you've been on road trips, so you're just not talking. You're going in and seeing and being in the classroom. And as a former elementary teacher, I'm sure that fills your heart. I can't imagine sometimes just being in an office where you can't fill that heart and feel it again. What are you hearing, though, directly in the classroom? What did you see that's working, and what are you hearing that's not working?
Secretary Cardona: What is working: our teachers get it. They know that our students need to interact. They know that our students have lacked proper socialization development so they're restructuring their time with our students to give them those opportunities to learn those really important skills, self-regulation skills, to make sure that they're able to be successful with one another. So, I'm seeing that; that's working.
Teachers and school leaders recognize that we've got to meet the students where they are, and we're going to have to adapt to what they're telling us they need. And I've also seen amazing connections with families where parents who are struggling because there are mental health issues in their family due to the pandemic are going to the school, and the school is hooking them up with resources in ways that, in the past, it wasn't happening.
And what I'm hearing from them is that the students still need a lot more support, that families are not okay, that they're still struggling a lot. And that in some places the inequities have gotten worse. The gaps between those who have and those who don't have has gotten worse. What I'm hearing is that kids are still hungry, that parents are still without full employment, or they're still trying to get themselves back on their feet. I'm hearing that many students are coming in with the trauma of having lost a loved one, and they haven't had the proper time to grieve or don't know how to do that.
So, it's a mixed bag, but you know what? I do feel confident that funding alone is not going to get it done. We have to have good leadership and good distribution of funds, support, and the American Rescue Plan fund is not going to last forever. So, we have to reinvest in education at the state level, at the local level, in different ways if we're serious about helping our students recover.
Noelle: And I know that I've read and seen where you've said, "It may not be easy, but it's going to be different." And that embracing different is something that I know is a part of your work and your platform and what you are aiming to support every teacher in what is different, and how to shift that to what is also working.
Secretary Cardona: Yeah. I always say, "The work is not going to get easier. It's going to get different." A year ago, we were worried about protecting our children from the pandemic. They weren't vaccinated yet. Safety, physical safety, right? So now, thank goodness, due to the vaccine rollout, and the fact that it's working, the vaccines are working, and people are not being hospitalized at the same rate. But now, we need to shift our focus with the same level of urgency around mental health support, because our kids are not well. So, that's what I mean by it's not going to get easier; it's going to get different. We need to embrace, as educators and education leaders, the opportunity to shift, to make sure we're meeting the needs of our kids.
But I'll tell you, Noelle, 2019 wasn't a great year in education. We had problems. You know, we had achievement gaps that were wild. We had students who didn't have access to college. College was out of reach because it was too expensive. So, going back to 2020 is not the goal. We'd be failing our kids if we went back to how it was. We've got to do better.
Noelle: Yes, and I'm here to support that work. It's just, I think that's why teachers are taking a breath and starting to see and hear that they do have a voice, they do have a place, and ask and share in a forum that is going to get that work, and let people advocate for you as well.
This, again, being a special week, Teacher Appreciation Week, I know you're in the White House, and you're in the White House this week because it's the National Teacher [of the Year] ceremony. What have you personally, when you think about your journey as an educator, what have you learned from these finalists this year that you're going to continue to take?
Secretary Cardona: That it's all about relationships. It's just a reminder that we got into this profession—we signed up for this—because we want to improve lives. And you know, while these teachers were speaking, I'm looking in the crowd at the other Teachers of the Year, and I see some of them, their eyes welling up. They're impacted by the moment of standing in front of the president of the United States, hearing about how we're honoring teachers. And they're just overwhelmed with emotion because they're so giving. And they're thinking about their students. They're thinking about the teachers that they work with. That's how teachers are.
So, what I'm hearing from these finalists, what I'm experiencing with them, is that they're selfless givers. And even when they're being recognized by the president of the United States, they almost feel like, "Well, it's not just me, it's everybody." They are just so humble, so humble. They're humble servants, and it just reminds me how they're in this, not for the acknowledgement of the president, although that's great. They're here for the relationships to help children's lives improve. And that's what inspires me when I'm getting people challenging the profession or saying, "There's too much money in education." I think of those teachers. They inspire me.
Noelle: And what they have done for their learners, for our future, for all of our futures. I find that to be one of the most endearing qualities of a teacher is it's not "me first." It's always the eyes and the hearts of those faces that I got to come back to every day in my classroom. I think that's a special treat, and I'm glad that you saw that in them, and I'm glad that they're being celebrated. As we close out, I want to just tell you again, what a privilege this has been.
Secretary Cardona: Thank you.
Noelle: But when you think back on your journey too, as a leader, Secretary Cardona, what would be final advice that you would share with somebody who might be thinking about, is this profession for me still, or is this a profession for me next?
Secretary Cardona: Yeah, I really do feel that this is the best time to be an educator or to get into the profession. I can't think of another time in our lifetime where the call to be a teacher can have a greater impact on our country than now. Our kids need us more. Our communities need us more. It's tough work. It's tough work, and it may get tougher, but there's no time more important to become a teacher than now.
And I can tell you that at the federal level, we're making sure that we're listening to our teachers. We're fighting for improved conditions and we're fighting for a competitive salary, and we need to lift the profession. It shouldn't take a pandemic or Teacher Appreciation Week for us to appreciate teachers. I would say that the country needs you now and that you can have an impact in the lives of other people. And at the end of the day, it's an extension of your purpose when you go into teaching.
So, if it's calling on your heart to go into it, or if you're currently teaching or leading, and you're stressed out with all the drama of the politicization of it or the challenges that we're facing now because of the pandemic, just remember, you're needed now more than ever. And at the end of the day, you're impacting the lives of children. That should be your inspiration. That should be what drives you. And you know, dedicated teachers across the country know that. Get into the profession. We need you. We need more teachers, and we need to honor our teachers.
Noelle: Thank you so much. Thank you for being a guest on Teachers in America. Thank you for the work that you're doing, and on behalf of our podcast, our listeners, and HMH, thank you so much.
Secretary Cardona: Great to be with you. Take care.
Thanks for joining us on the podcast today. If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on the Teachers in America podcast, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We value our listeners' support and feedback. Be the first to hear new episodes of Teachers in America by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
If you enjoyed today's show, please rate, review, and share 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. Teachers in America is produced by HMH. Until next time, your friend, Noelle.
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