Wyoming’s Zach Beam Honored at White House Teachers’ Event

The Newcastle science instructor spoke with the Wyoming Truth last fall about his selection as state teacher of the year

Wyoming 2023 teacher of the year Zach Beam (third from right in top row) said he was "honored and humbled" to join the other state and national teacher honorees at the White House for a ceremony with President Joe Biden and other political leaders on Monday. (photo via Twitter / the White House).

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

This story has been updated with new information and photos as of 9:30 a.m. MT on April 25, 2023.

WASHINGTON — Newcastle High School science teacher Zach Beam participated in a ceremony at the White House on Monday honoring 2023 national and state teachers of the year, as the country’s public schools have been thrust to the center of ongoing culture war debates over LGBTQ rights and gun violence.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during an event honoring the Teachers of the Year in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on April 24, 2023. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)

Beam was joined at the White House by honorees from 49 states and four territories, including 2023 national teacher of the year Rebecka Peterson of Oklahoma. A math teacher in Tulsa, Patterson spoke of her experience as a first-generation American and how that informed her classroom work.

“I may not have been born here, but I consider myself a daughter of this country,” she said. “Teachers, you hold our democracy, you create spaces that insist we belong to each other.”

Patterson’s words of encouragement were echoed by first lady Dr. Jill Biden, a teacher herself who has juggled her White House duties with teaching English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College outside D.C.

“We’re here to take a moment on one of the biggest stages in the world, the White House, to say that teachers change lives,” Dr. Biden said proudly.

In an interview with the Wyoming Truth last fall after he was announced as Wyoming’s 2023 teacher of the year, Beam reflected on the difficulty of teaching throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and how he stayed positive.

“It wasn’t easy to engage the students, and I wasn’t able to provide the education that I’m used to providing, because I couldn’t see the students’ responses, I couldn’t see how they were doing,” Beam recalled. “But I tried to remember what we’re trying to accomplish here at the school, and what we’re trying to provide for students, to try and keep that in focus the whole time.”

President Biden says teaching shouldn’t be ‘life threatening’ job in call for gun control

Despite the warm occasion, Monday’s event was not without political discourse. President Joe Biden, the first lady and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona each decried cuts to public education funding recently proposed by House Republican leaders, and they touched on issues of gun violence and LGBTQ rights playing out in schools throughout the country.

“Just last week, we saw the Speaker of the House and MAGA Republicans in Congress want to cut funding for schools by 22%,” Biden said. “If that were to pass, it would mean cutting up to 60,000 teaching jobs, affecting 25 million children.”

House leaders are preparing to move that proposal, which pairs a temporary increase of the debt limit with billions of dollars in spending cuts, to the floor for a vote as soon as this week.

Highlighting the gun safety measure he signed into law last year, Biden said he “continue[s] to call on Congress for common sense gun safety laws to protect kids and our teachers.”

“Teaching should not be a life threatening profession, and educators should not need to be armed to feel safe in the classroom,” he added.

The president also condemned GOP-led states that recently passed laws impacting LGBTQ students and teachers, noting that “across the country of late from some of our friends on the extreme right, LGBT students and teachers are under attack from hateful laws.”

The White House has repeatedly lambasted a new policy in Florida critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools. A similar measure was debated in Wyoming earlier this year, but ultimately failed to pass the statehouse.

In his remarks, Biden also highlighted growing concerns about book banning, as the American Library Association last month reported a record 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022, a 74% increase from the previous year.

“As a student of history, I never thought I’d be a president who is fighting against elected officials trying to ban and banning books,” Biden said. “Empty shelves don’t help kids learn very much.”

Despite the political interludes, the focus of Monday’s event was squarely on celebrating the dozens of teachers and their families present — as speakers stressed their role in bringing about positive change for future generations.

“Right now, someone out there is a better thinker because of you,” Dr. Biden said. “Never forget that student by student, the lives you change go on to change the world.”

“Yesterday was an unforgettable experience and I am excited about the future of education,” Beam told the Wyoming Truth Tuesday morning. “I feel honored and humbled to be part of such an incredible cohort of state teachers of the year with Rebecka Peterson representing us all as the 2023 National Teacher of the Year!”

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