U.S. First Lady Jill Biden hugs Juliana Urtubey, 2021 National Teacher of the Year, during the Council of Chief State School Officers' 2020 and 2021 State and National Teachers of the Year event on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday. Photo by Al Drago/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 18 (UPI) -- First lady Jill Biden hosted the Council of Chief State School Officers' 2020 and 2021 Teachers of the Year and President Joe Biden made a surprise appearance in a ceremony at the White House on Monday.
The first lady, speaking before a crowd of about 100 educators, praised teachers for their efforts to continue to educate the nation's youth throughout the difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"You worked long hours, you reworked those lesson plans, I swear overnight, and you reimagined what a classroom could be," she said. "It was difficult, wasn't it? And we're still wrestling with the challenges of this pandemic."
The Council of Chief State School Officers is a nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education that focuses on major educational issues and express their views on school matters.
Juliana Urtubey, an elementary special education teacher in Las Vegas, was recognized as the 2021 Teacher of the Year. Tabatha Rosproy, an early childhood educator from Winfield, Kan., was the 2020 Teacher of the Year.
Known as "Ms. Earth" for her efforts to beautify schools and unify the community through murals and gardens, Urtubey has helped raise funds for garden programs at two Las Vegas schools.
Rosproy, the first early childhood educator to be named National Teacher of the Year, runs an intergenerational program in a retirement community that serves special education and typically developing preschoolers and facilitates daily interactions with residents, who serve as "grandparent" volunteers.
"You, and teachers like you across this country have found the courage and the strength to keep going. With all my heart and on behalf of millions of American families, thank you for being the heroes that we needed," Jill Biden said.
The first lady then introduced a surprise guest as the president arrived and called teachers the "kite strings that lift our national ambitions aloft."
"Most of all, what you do is you give us confidence, you instill confidence," he said.
Joe Biden introduced himself as "Jill's husband" and noted he knew the first lady would continue her job teaching writing at Northern Virginia community college after they entered the White House.
"She's the only first lady who's ever had a full-time job," he said. "Now, the fact that I don't ever get to see her, the fact that she's either traveling on behalf of the people of this country or going to this classroom teaching 15 credits at the community college, is a different story. But it is who she is."