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Mon teacher in Washington felt ‘listened to’ at awards ceremony

It was just one seat in the Rose Garden, but the way Amber Nichols saw it, she had the whole expanse filled, metaphorically.

“That seat was for every West Virginia kid,” the state’s 2023 Teacher of the Year said.

“I carried every single one with me.”

Nichols, who teaches kindergarten at Eastwood Elementary School, was in Washington, D.C., earlier this week with other recognized colleagues from across the country.

All were being honored by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden, herself a longtime educator.

The two-day event that saw an instructor from Oklahoma named the nation’s Teacher of the Year was both a pep rally and a call to arms for a profession that is in many ways under siege.

Teachers were already getting burned out with the long hours and low pay that comes with the job, President Biden said.

Playing perpetual catchup from COVID, while constantly looking over one’s shoulder at the very real concern of gun violence in America’s schools, is only making the malaise worse, he said.

But for every frustration and every tragedy of a gun stashed in a backpack or locker, there is still that one caring person in front of the room, said the president, who introduced himself as “the husband of a teacher” — a note that impressed Nichols, she said.

“This isn’t about us,” Nichols said.

“It’s our spouses and our own children,” the Mon educator said. “They live with our profession, too.”

Nichols said she was galvanized by Jill Biden’s remarks in the Rose Garden.

“Right now, someone out there is a better thinker because of you,” the First Lady said.

Someone is more confident, more kind and working harder to succeed, because of a teacher who showed the way, she continued.

Before the ceremony came a town hall-styled meeting presided over by Jill Biden, Nichols said, that made for lots of meaningful exchanges and productive give-and-take.

“We really felt ‘listened to,’” the Mon educator said.

She will always remember listening to that lieutenant colonel’s wife on her first-ever day in front of her own classroom as a teacher.

It was at an elementary school in Yuma, Ariz., on Sept. 11, 2001.

Nichols, newly married, was 2,200 miles away from her hometown of West Union, Doddridge County.

Her husband was on active duty at a nearby military base and no one knew if he’d be deployed in the immediate wake of the terror attacks.

When the school principal gave the faculty married to people in uniform the option to go home for the day, a teacher who was the spouse of the lieutenant colonel answered for the room.

Rank, as it turns out, has long arms in a military town.

“She said, ‘We’ve got each other,’” Nichols recalled. “’We need to be with our kids, so we can help them through this.’”

Which, a certain Teacher of the Year from the Mountain State said, turned into a mantra.

“Ever since.”

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