Remarks prepared for delivery by First Lady Jill Biden at the University of Tennessee

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Knoxville, TN

Thank you, Melisa. And congratulations on becoming Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year. I see this as a well-deserved honour.

Mayor Kincannon, Dr. Schwinn—thank you for welcoming Secretary Cardona and myself here today.

Hello University of Tennessee! I am so excited to be with you today. Where are our student teachers?!

I have always loved the start of a new school year. There’s a moment just before my new class arrives, when I smell the smell of freshly waxed hardwood floors wafting through the air. I feel the fading summer glow, still warm on my skin, and hear a buzz of possibility in this fragile stillness, just waiting to be pierced by the chatter and laughter of new students crossing the gate.

At this moment, the year seems to stretch before me. I know that I am about to meet students whose lives I hope to change and who will change me in their own way. I know we will grow, discover and learn together. And I feel as lucky as the day I signed my first teaching contract. I think many of you know that feeling too.

Because whether you are just beginning your journey or are a seasoned educator, we are all here for the same reason: we heard a call and we answered it.

We answered it because we are learners – never satisfied, always curious about our universe and the people who inhabit it.

We are sculptors able to see the beauty hidden beneath the surface and help bring it out of hiding.

We are explorers, gathering all the wisdom, art and insight that humanity has to offer.

And we are optimists, convinced that when we give these things to the next generation, they will make our world a better place.

Teaching is not just what we do; it’s who we are. But for all of us who have answered that call, there is someone who has not. Or someone who felt they had to go.

Why? It’s not because they don’t want to teach. It’s because so many obstacles stood in their way: student loans and low wages. Class size and security issues.

If we want to add more bright and talented people in this field, if we want educators to be able to do what they do best, we need to give them the support they deserve.

We’ve all heard of the so-called three “Rs” of learning: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Well, now is the time for the three Rs of teaching – some of you may have heard of them: recruit, respect and retain.

That’s what your president, Joe Biden, is doing. He worked hard to elevate educators:

• By opening schools and having teachers vaccinated
• Ensure that districts can hire more counselors and school psychologists
• Call on states to raise teachers’ salaries
• And cancel billions of student debts.

In fact, here’s your homework, if you haven’t taken advantage of the Civil Service Loan Forgiveness Program yet, you should! You have until October 31 to apply with the waiver that allows more people to qualify. Don’t be like our students and put it off until the last minute!

And everything Joe has done is just the beginning. Because, as Secretary Cardona said, we continue to invest in innovative ideas like the apprenticeship program you have here in Tennessee.

Joe was always going to be an education chair. I mean, he has to be because he comes home every night! But it’s also because he cares so much about it.

He will never stop working to recruit more people into this profession to support mentor educators – and restore the dignity and respect we deserve – and to give us the resources we need to continue doing this incredible work for years to come. years and years to come.

And educators like us, we also have a role to play. We are the best recruiters.
We need to use that “teacher’s voice” that we know makes people listen and let the world know what this job means to us, how we are changing lives every day.

We must say: To the student who knows deep down that you have a gift. To the artist or engineer who wants to spread the joy of creating something out of nothing. To this person who is ready for a change, who yearns for more meaning and light in your daily life:

You also have a vocation. Answer it. Become a teacher. And when you do, you will find a vocation that will bring you joy and meaning.

You will know that someone out there thinks better thanks to you.

That someone is sitting a little taller because you gave them confidence.

Someone works a little harder because you pushed them to try.

Someone is braver because you helped them find their courage.

And you’ll know it, too: your president and his administration work every day to make sure you get the support, respect, and compensation you deserve.

Join us. Become a teacher. And we will change the world together, one student at a time.

Thanks.

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