To celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week (May 2–6), TFK Kid Reporter Ethan Zhang spoke with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, in Washington, D.C.
1. What role does a teacher play in a kid’s life?
Teachers shape lives. Yes, they teach us reading, math, and science, but they also really help us develop who we are as people. I’m happy that we can pause for a part of the year to acknowledge what teachers do. But we should be appreciating them every day.
2. Who was an important teacher in your life?
There were many. One was Mr. O’Neill. I remember drawing a football helmet in his art class. I loved football. Talk about engaging assignments: That was engaging! And Mr. O’Neill was the first male teacher I had, and he was a Black teacher. I looked up to him and thought, “Maybe I could be like Mr. O’Neill.”
3. What do teachers need most to do their jobs well?
They need to feel appreciated and respected for what they do. Ethan, I bet if you feel welcomed by your classmates and teachers, and feel like you belong there, you’re going to give it your best, right? So if we respect our educators and value what they do, I know they’ll continue to thrive.
4. What challenges has the pandemic brought?
Teachers have dealt with school opening and closing, and making sure students had what they needed in order to be successful. They’ve had students who didn’t have access to a computer, or who were hungry, or had lost family members to the pandemic. And teachers have faced these challenges while taking care of their own families.
5. Have schools been able to celebrate teachers?
Events that bring together the whole school, like fun assemblies where we honor our teachers—those aren’t always possible. But I’ve gone into schools where bands marched in the hallways to celebrate. I’ve seen teachers treated to a dessert table in the staff lounge. So people are finding creative ways to honor teachers.
6. What can students do to show their appreciation?
The best gift, when I was teaching fourth grade, was when students gave their best, and cared for one another. When students do well and show a sense of community—that’s the best way to honor a teacher.
7. I agree. My friends and I show our appreciation whenever we can.
You know, once I had a student who would bring in a guitar. He was 9 years old. I don’t think he even knew how to play it. But he’d come in and serenade the class. Teachers appreciate things like that. It brings a smile to their face.
8. What would you like to say to teachers?
I want to say thank you. I’m going to make sure we continue to support our teachers, and make sure they realize that in Washington, D.C., there’s a teacher here fighting for them.