CEC member Shawn Sheehan, a special education teacher in Norman, Okla., was one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award and was honored at a celebration held Tuesday, May 3, at the White House.
The National Teacher of the Year program, run by the Council of Chief State School Officers, identifies exceptional teachers and the work they do for students across the country, and gives the country’s top educators a national voice on education. This year’s winner, Jahana Hayes, will spend the next year traveling the country speaking about education and advocating for educators and students.
Sheehan, who teaches high school students at Norman High School, said he became a teacher to help students see that a disability does not disqualify them from reaching their goals. Sheehan works to inspire teachers as well as students, and developed the “Teach Like Me” campaign to build teacher morale and recruit new teachers to the profession.
“When I found out I was a finalist, I was eager to represent hard-working, resilient educators, especially those who teach students with exceptionalities at the highest level,” said Sheehan, who had high praise for the other finalists. “What stood out to me most was how dedicated, innovative and passionate each one of us is.” Sheehan commended the choice of Jahana Hayes as the National Teacher of the Year, saying she’s “an incredible teacher and has done wonderful work with students in her state.”
Two of CEC’s Clarissa Hug Teachers of the Year, 2016 recipient Dr. Kathy Boisvert and 2015 recipient Helen Pastore, along with CEC Executive Director Alex Graham, were on hand to support Sheehan at The White House celebration.
Boisvert, an integrated preschool teacher in Blackstone-Millville Public Schools in Millville, Mass., said she was overwhelmed and honored to be invited to The White House, meet President Obama, and be recognized for her accomplishments as a special educator added, “I am especially proud to be representing CEC because I truly believe that our recognition at an event like this brings national attention to the need for advocacy on behalf of children with exceptionalities.”
Pastore, a special education teacher at Oak Park School in Sarasota, Fla., said she was honored to be in the company of so many fellow educators and administrators who shared the same understanding of the celebration’s significance. “I was delighted to hear President Obama refer to the diversity of learning and learners in our country, including the importance of special education,” she said.
Pastore also appreciated that Obama pointed to the future and our need to value education in a way that will attract new teachers. “It’s the kind of message we need to receive as a country, to think about what we need to do to continue passing along knowledge and generating curiosity for future students,” said Pastore.
Both Boisvert and Pastore were excited to see the power of teaching recognized on a national level, especially with the inclusion of CEC’s Sheehan, whose presence highlighted the importance of special education in particular. “It was gratifying to see the media shining a light on the amazing dedication teachers bring to their profession and the impact we can have on our students,” said Boisvert.