Tuesday, March 4, 2014

PAEMST Recognition Trip - Day 3

What an absolutely long and amazing day!  It's late (after midnight), and I feel like I haven't really slept in days, but I'm still awake, even though I have to be on a bus back to the White House at 6:45 AM I'm going to try and get my thoughts down.

The day started with everyone meeting in the lobby at 7:45.  Because of the snow all government offices were shut down and the busses weren't running.  Fortunately, the White House and the National Science Foundation were able to still continue with today's events.  Instead of busses, we walked a few blocks in the snow to the Metro, rode, and then walked a few blocks to the White House. We were told to carry our dress shoes with us and to wear appropriate footwear for the snow.  I didn't have boots with me, so I rolled up my suit pants and wore my running shoes.  Being from northeastern PA, I thought they were really making more of this 3 inch snow than necessary.

The Mickey tie I wore to meet the President

Most of the day was spent listening to speakers from different government agencies.  I really wish we had more time to network and learn from the other winners.  I felt like I had to sit quietly all day in a room full of amazing knowledge without being able to tap into it.  That's a shame.

Me next to a photo on the wall of the President

 We had a bag lunch with a soda around noon.  Other than that, there wasn't anything to drink.  But we all got through it with building excitement as we got closer to the last item on our agenda - Photo with the President at 4:45.

NCTM President Linda Gojak and I

Presidential M&Ms - one of our gifts

Presidential Hershey's Kisses

Around 4PM we were done and were given a few minutes to relax and look around (a little) the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  It was the headquarters for the United States WW II operations.

Next, we walked next door to the front door of the White House.  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was at the White House today, and we walked past his car as we made our way.  It had an Israeli Flag on the hood.

After we got into the White House we were escorted to the East Room.  We got onto risers for the photo and I made sure to go right to the middle where the President would be standing.  In the picture, I am right behind him.  We haven't gotten a copy yet.  I'll surely post it when we do.  No pictures of inside the White House are allowed to be posted other than that.

We had to wait about 20 minutes for the President.  In that time his top Science and Technology advisor told us how important we were for the success of the country and how much our work was valued.  He then left to go get the President from the Oval Office.

While we waited for their return, the White House Usher told us the history of the East Room.  It is used for state dinners, press conferences, and it is where Presidents who die in office Rest in State.  The most recent time this happened was when President Kennedy was assassinated.  I was standing 10 feet from where his coffin rested.

There was a hush when the doors opened and we could see the President walking down the red carpet in the hallway toward us.  It is the same route that we've all seen him walk during press conferences to get to the podium before, but this time there was no podium.  Being in the middle of the risers, he was right in front of me as he talked about his own experiences in school, how he didn't do well in math in high school because he "goofed off", how he's amazed by what his daughters are learning about science and math, and how honored he was to have us here at the White House.  He told us he was proud of us, and that what we are being recognized needs to be spread to other teachers, and that we are ensuring the success of the United States in the future.

We then took a group picture with him.  Then, he turned to us and said that he would like to shake each of our hands.  We quickly formed a line and took a few seconds each with him.  My exchange with him was this:
Me:  "Mr. President, it's a pleasure to meet you.  I'm Mike Soskil from Pennsylvania."
President Obama:  "It's nice to meet you.  Thank you for what you do for our country."
Wow.  That's pretty awesome.  Those 10 seconds were powerful.  And the President of the United States has very soft hands.  He must moisturize regularly.

After that, we were ushered into the Green Room, the Blue Room, and the Red Room where the White House Usher told us a little about each room.  At that point, we were still told that we were not allowed to take pictures.

Finally, it was time to leave.  We were told that we could take a few pictures on the way out, but not post them online.  At that realization, 102 teachers scattered like there was an Easter Egg hunt with $100 bills stuffed in the eggs.  People were trying to get as many pictures as they could in as many places as they could before we got kicked out.  I got a lot of really neat pictures that very few people have ever had the opportunity to take before we left.

We then left floating on Cloud 9 and walked giddily to the Metro to go back to the hotel.

One guy came running past and said to us, "I've never seen regular people coming out the front entrance of the White House before.  What's going on?"  We explained to him that we were award winning teachers. He said, "Meeting you is as close as I'll ever get to meeting the President."

So I asked him if he wanted a picture with me.  He asked if I were a Congressman.  I said, "Not Yet."
The runner and I
When we got back to the hotel, we only had 30 minutes to get ready for our Award Dinner.  We aren't actually getting our awards until Wednesday morning, but this is our one chance to get fancy for a dinner.  Dinner was nice, and we got some nice swag from math, science, and education companies. Lori looked fantastic.

 After dinner Lori and I spent time with some great new friends and their guests/spouses in the hotel lounge talking about the things we are all so passionate about - great teaching, STEM, empowering students, overcoming the culture of standardized testing we face, etc.  It was another absolutely incredible day.

Tomorrow we are headed to the White House for a tour at 6:45AM, then to National Geographic Headquarters for a private screening of Cosmos, and finally to the National Science Foundation.