President Obama Honors the 2013 National Teacher of the Year

President Barack Obama, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, honors 2013 National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau

President Barack Obama, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, honors 2013 National Teacher of the Year Jeff Charbonneau, State Teachers of the Year, and Principals of the Year, in the Rose Garden of the White House, April 23, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Twelve years ago, Zillah High School in Washington state had no engineering classes. The science curriculum was lagging behind, and students had to go off campus to take technology classes.

Jeff Charbonneau, who returned to his hometown 11 years ago to teach at Zillah High, was determined to change that. And he did. Science enrollment is way up. Kids are graduating with college-level science credits. The school expects to have to hire more teachers now to meet the demand.

And today, President Obama honored Jeff as the 2013 National Teacher of the Year.

Jeff teaches chemistry, physics, and engineering, and works to create accessible, interactive lessons that help convince kids that the science classes most students consider hardest are worth diving in to, not running away from. But President Obama said that it’s not just his work in the classroom that distinguishes Jeff.

“He started an outdoors club,” President Obama said. “He brought his passion to the drama program. He’s even helping out other schools.” Because of Jeff, hundreds of students all over Washington are now participating in high-skills robotics competitions and gaining valuable engineering experience.

“There’s nothing that Jeff will not try to give his students the best education in every respect,” President Obama said.

President Obama said that what’s true for Jeff is also true for the other state Teachers of the Year, who stood behind President Obama at today’s event.

They understand that their job is more than teaching subjects like reading or chemistry. They’re not just filling blackboards with numbers and diagrams. In classrooms across America, they’re teaching things like character and compassion and resilience and imagination. They’re filling young minds with virtues and values, and teaching our kids how to cooperate and overcome obstacles.

President Obama thanked Jeff and his fellow educators for their hard work and commitment to America’s young people.

What you do matters. It’s critical to our success as a country, but most importantly, it’s critical to those kids themselves. I cannot think of something more important than reaching that child who maybe came in uninspired, and suddenly, you’ve inspired them.

“Teaching is a profession and it should be treated like one,” President Obama said.

Educators like Jeff and everyone up here today, they represent the very best of America — committed professionals who give themselves fully to the growth and development of our kids. And with them at the front of the classroom and leading our schools, I am absolutely confident that our children are going to be prepared to meet the tests of our time and the tests of the future.

Megan Slack is deputy director of digital content for the White House Office of Digital Strategy


  1. I’ve had the privilege of meeting Mr. Charbonneau. He is an outstanding educator and person. He cares deeply about his students, his craft and his profession. An absolute great example for teachers and for all of us to see what a true servant leader looks like. Congratulations Jeff; you deserve it!

  2. I celebrate the selection of a STEM teacher for Teacher of the Year. This educator understands the importance of reaching students with coursework that will greatly impact the future of America. The content of the courses that Mr. Charbonneau teaches will take his students right into the best career fields offered in the best corporations in America. Motivating our students to choose STEM courses will help them be prepared for collegiate coursework. More teachers should identify students who will be successful in areas that will move students into scientific fields. While personal values are important to teach, giving students the knowledge that will improve their career choices is the real role of today’s teachers.

  3. As a teacher, I would like to say that President Obama honors our country, and at times like this makes me proud to say that I am an American. Teaching is a field that can be very trying, and in a bad recent trend has been reduced in some places to a quest for numbers; so to hear his praise of those brave souls who saved some of our youngest from a menace they could not fathom, or who died in the attempt, brings a welcome contrast. I believe, in general, that the more the President leads on educational issues, the better off American education will be; while if he merely delegates and follows trends among his wealthy campaign donors, our children will not be so well off, and his aspirations for our country may go unfulfilled.

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