04/30/2014 03:36 pm ET Updated Jun 30, 2014

To Celebrate Great Teaching, Support Great Teachers

At the heart of every great classroom is someone with a gift for igniting the sparks of curiosity that flash in every young mind. Someone who can transform a routine English lesson into a magical journey into the future, or the past; whose belief in their students' abilities and talents is unshakeable; and who encourages each child to challenge themselves. That someone is a great teacher.

Sean McComb, our 2014 National Teacher of the Year, embodies what it is to be a great teacher. As a high school English teacher at Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts in Baltimore, Maryland, Sean inspires and engages his students, even in the face of adversity. Sean deeply understands the critical role teachers play in their students' lives, because during a period of family turmoil in his own childhood, Sean turned to a teacher -- a teacher who became one of the most important people in his life.

That experience led Sean to continue his education and pursue teaching, and it's what fuels his commitment today to help all of his students succeed, including those in a program he developed to help prepare struggling students for academic success. The program, Patapsco's Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) program, provides support for students in difficult circumstances to take more rigorous classes and reach their college dreams. On Thursday, alongside President Obama, we will proudly salute Sean's example and excellence in a ceremony at the White House.

And this week, we will honor not only Sean, but more than 50 outstanding State Teachers of the Year from every corner of the country, who bring learning to life for their students. As a diverse group of veteran teachers and those newer to the profession, who teach everything from English Language Arts to special education, each of these exemplary educators has a passion for education at their core.

That passion drives this group of teachers to get better in their work every day, and I am inspired every time one of them shares another story about the incredible role they play in their students' lives. Their commitment and concern for students demonstrates that great teaching is so much more than a job -- it's a calling, and I thank each and every one of them for what they do.

Every single day, these teachers, and so many others like them, step up to the challenge of making sure their students are prepared for college, career, and life. Higher academic standards and innovative assessments are equipping teachers with better tools to measure students' progress, pinpoint where they need help, and better prepare students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.

These teachers understand that American students are no longer just competing with each other for jobs, but rather with students from around the world. Time and again, Sean and his peers have proven that that they know what it takes to succeed, and that failing to help their students achieve that success is not an option.

But no teacher can do this alone. Teachers need support, from administrators, principals, parents, and their peers to prepare students for life after graduation. And that support can't just be lip service -- in order for teachers to succeed, more time for collaboration with colleagues, more resources for planning, and more professional development to understand the instructional shifts underway are all essential. So are engaged parents who work just as hard, if not harder than teachers, to support, challenge and encourage children pursuing their education in a rapidly changing world.

For Sean, the day he walked into Mr. Schurtz's 11th grade AP English class changed his life forever. In that classroom, he found someone who sparked a passion for literature and pushed him to work hard despite the struggles he faced. A great teacher inspired him to expect more for himself. I have no doubt that Mr. Schurtz is proud of the great teacher that Sean has become.

Join me in congratulating our 2014 Teachers of the Year and don't forget to thank the teachers in your life for the hard work they do.