WATCH: President Biden welcomes National and State Teachers of the Year to the White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden congratulated the 2022 National Teacher of the Year on Wednesday, offering a deeply personal story saluting the school leaders who helped him overcome a severe childhood stutter decades before he he has aspirations to the White House.

Watch the event in the player above.

“I wonder how I got here. I got here because of my parents and my teachers,” Biden said in a long, heartfelt diversion from his prepared remarks during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. “This idea is exemplified by the National Teacher of the Year.”

President and First Lady Jill Biden, who continues to teach English at a community college in suburban Washington, applauded Ohio history teacher Kurt Russell as the 2022 National Teacher of the Year and the award finalists who gathered in each state.

“Teaching isn’t what Jill does, it’s who she is, like most of you,” the president said, before speaking to the crowd about his problem as a talking kid – especially in the classroom. or otherwise publicly – “when I stutter, everyone thinks you are stupid. Totally incompetent.”

Biden has spoken openly about battling his childhood stuttering in the past, including when he ran for president in 2020. But he stressed on Wednesday the importance of teachers to help him in that effort.

“I have teachers, I can appoint them in elementary school, high school, even in university,” the president said. “I didn’t really beat my stutter – and I still do from time to time (stutter) – until I took a speech debate class in college just to force myself to be able to stand up. .”

Biden recalled being an adjunct law professor and said he once made extra money as a substitute professor, prompting laughter as he sternly chided the crowd, ‘you should be nicer to them’ . He called for increasing teachers’ salaries – a position that enjoys broad bipartisan support even if increases don’t often materialize in many parts of the country.

The president also secured Republican-led political efforts in some states to restrict certain books taught in classrooms or available in school libraries after some parents objected to topics they considered too sexually explicit or too politically correct.

“Today there are too many politicians trying to score political points by banning books,” Biden said. “All because it doesn’t fit on someone’s political agenda.” He added of teachers, “We need to stop making them the target of culture wars.”

Russell summed up his profession by saying, “Every student needs a champion, no matter the circumstances.”

It echoed the sentiments of the first lady, who said of great teachers, ‘it’s not the classroom curriculum or tactics, it’s that smile that tells students they don’t have to have afraid to answer out loud.”

“It’s the calm in your voice that can calm wild horses running through their hearts,” she added. “It’s how you know that sometimes, ‘I’m fine’ means everything is bad.”

When Jill Biden spoke about teachers changing lives “student by student,” her voice began to crack, before laughing and saying, “Now I’m getting emotional.”

Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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