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May 6, 2024 29 mins

In honor of 2024 Teacher Appreciation Week, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona joins HMH's CEO Jack Lynch to discuss pressing issues in education. Together, they explore the integration of AI in the classroom, tackling teacher burnout, competitive salaries, and building respect for the teaching profession. Plus, Secretary Cardona shares an experience for his early days as a teacher and advice from influential educators that have stuck with him throughout his career.

Teachers in America profiles K–12 teachers across the country. Hear firsthand from the people who are shaping young lives in the classroom every day. If you or someone you know would be a good candidate for Teachers in America, please email us at

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
On average, teachers make 24% less than people with
similar degrees in otherprofessions.
Why do we normalize that?
You know the profession isabout 75% women.
Would it be the same if it were75% men?
And you know we have to havethese conversations and if our
country is going to grow the wayit should grow, if we're going

to lead the world the way Iexpect us to lead the world
because we have the potential,then we need to invest in our
educators differently.

Speaker 2 (00:32):
Welcome to Teachers in America, a podcast from HMH.
Today I'm pleased to introducea very special episode featuring
US Secretary of EducationMiguel Cardona, interviewed by
HMH's CEO, jack Lynch.
We hope you'll enjoy thisconversation honoring the
teachers in America duringTeacher Appreciation Week.

Speaker 3 (00:53):
Well, welcome, Secretary Cardona, to this very
special episode for TeacherAppreciation Week.
So it is great to have you back.

Speaker 1 (01:04):
Great to be back and really want to just say happy
Teacher Appreciation Week.
So it is great to have you back, great to be back and really
want to just say happy TeacherAppreciation Week.
Every week should be TeacherAppreciation Week, but this is a
really important week for us toreally acknowledge the great
work that our educators doacross the country.

Speaker 3 (01:18):
Now, given that it's Teacher Appreciation Week.
We know you, prior to becomingSecretary of Education, have had
a rich and diverse career ineducation.
I was wondering if you couldshare some of your most
memorable experiences from thetime you spent in the classroom.

Speaker 1 (01:38):
Well, geez, I have to think back to the last century
to recall.
Look, you know, once a teacher,always a teacher, and those
years of serving as a fourthgrade teacher for me have
impacted me in this role morethan any other role.
I tell you a story my firstyear teaching you know, you're

just trying to get through theyear with a smile on your face
and it was a really amazing year.
And I remember the last day ofschool.
I had a young man named Hassan.
He was such a smart kid, he'sjust really intelligent.
And on the last day of school,his father comes up to see me
and says hey, Mr Cardona, youknow we're going to have a long

summer and I want to keep himbusy doing good things.
Could you give him some workover the summer?
And the poor kid, he's nineyears old, he's like, oh really,
dad, Like why would you do this?
Why would you say this?
And I'm thinking, you know, Iwanted to help this kid out.
I didn't want to bury him inpackets, you know.
So I said you know what, Hassan?
Now this is like 90s, right?

I said, Hasan, you're a smartkid and you're really good with
technology, right?
Could you make our school awebsite over the summer and I
just literally said it on a whim, you know, Could you just make
our school a website?
And he liked that because he'slike good, I get to be on my
computer and do things.

You know, All kidding aside, Ididn't think about it all summer
The first day of school thefollowing year, he shows up
really excited to show me whathe did over the summer.
He created an HTML code, whichwas back then.
That wasn't as easy to do.
Now you didn't have websitesthat allow you to create a

He created, coding, a websitefor the whole school and I know
he did it because some of thewords were misspelled.
But he had the bio of the nurse, he had a bio of the principal,
the classrooms.
I was just blown away.
When you just, you know, put achallenge out there, Students
rise to the occasion and great,great experience, Great memory

for me, and I was just likeawestruck at what he was able to

Speaker 3 (03:51):
Yeah, no, it's a.
It's a great story, Secretary,and you know it's a win, win.
It was a win for Hassan'sfather and a win for Hassan,
Hassan's father and a win forHassan.
And I think it's also a greatstory about how impactful
teachers are for their students.

We often think of teachers.
There's a narrative out therethat teachers are kind of a
mechanism for standards-basedinstruction which really
trivializes their impact onengaging and inspiring and
mentoring students, and this isa great story that kind of
reinforces that very deepconnection a teacher has with

their student.

Speaker 1 (04:36):
Absolutely yeah, he wanted to impress and let me
tell you, he exceeded ourexpectations.
His website was better than theactual website we had for the
And you're right.
I mean, look, I wouldn't behere if it weren't for a teacher
that I looked up to, and anyword that the teacher said I
hung on it because I had so muchrespect for that teacher.
I always say we have to namethem publicly.

For me it was Mr O'Neill and MsRansom.
I wouldn't be Secretary ofEducation if it wasn't Ms Ransom
saying you know, miguel, Ithink you'd make a good teacher.
So you're absolutely right.

Speaker 3 (05:08):
So how has that classroom experience really
influenced the work that you dotoday?

Speaker 1 (05:15):
You know, significantly, I recognize that
it's not just curriculum, it'snot just standards, while that's
really important.
I'm reminded of what I was toldwhen I was a student teacher by
Rindy Hardy, another teacherthat influenced me as I was
coming up in the profession.

She said, miguel, never forgetthis is the last day of student
Never forget you teach kids,not curriculum, and that stuck
with me.
I knew what she meant.
You know, yes, have highstandards, but connect with them
as people first.
And to this day, to this day,there's not a policy that goes

forward, there's not an actionthat we take at the Department
of Education that is notinfluenced by the person that
we're going to be touching,whose lives we're going to be
touching, the decisions that wemake at the Department of
Me, as secretary, I have to makea through line to helping
children and connecting tochildren, and my experience as a

teacher really helped me makethat possible.
Because there are times where Ilook at what we're doing at the
Department of Education andsaying, look, are we creating
obstacles for educators to beable to connect with students?
Are we over prescribing what wethink needs to happen from DC?
That's not the approach that isgoing to work.
I've also learned that engagingeducator voice, teacher voice

is part of the solution.
Oftentimes we think you knowwhen we do things to schools or
to districts that we're going toget the best results.
That's absolutely false.
It's when we engage and haveauthentic ownership and
engagement in the problemsolving with our teachers is
when we see the best results.

Speaker 3 (07:06):
Yeah, absolutely yeah , and I think that you know,
given your experience, you havea natural empathy for what a
teacher is going through in aday to day, and using that as a
filter through which you look atpolicy and determine,
determining how this is going toaffect teaching and learning at

a very personal level is really, really important.
So I want to turn to anotherimportant topic, uh gender, the
ai uh, which I know is somethingthat uh, you have uh spent a
lot of time in, invest a lot oftime in with you and your staff,
and at HMH, we share yourvision of using AI responsibly

to extend not replace, butextend and empower teachers.
So, in particular, tworecommendations have been made
by the Office of EducationTechnology that resonate with us
One is to keep a human in theloop, and then the second is to

inform and involve educatorsaround designing and developing
and testing and implementingAI-enabled education technology.
As we continue to explore howbest to harness the power of AI
to improve teaching learning,we'd love to hear your thoughts

about the most exciting waysthat AI could transform
educators' experience andsupport student success.

Speaker 1 (08:40):
Teachers in the during thepandemic, that there is no
substitute for that in-classroomexperience.
No amount of Zoom or technologycan replace that experience of
being a part of something biggerthan yourself in a classroom
and having an educator who'sconnecting with you.

You know, when my kids werelearning remotely, they missed
that sense of community.
So we should learn from thatthat no amount of AI can replace
that relational development andthat sense of community that
that classroom teacher directsin his or her classroom.

And then, as I said in myearlier response, you can't
improve education without makingsure that teachers'
fingerprints are all over thatplan.
Second to parents teachers knowthose children more than anyone

else and they know the impactsof policy more than anyone else.
Second to parents so I thinkyou know and I learned this the
hard way when I was a schoolprincipal I remember getting
certified in I think it wasdata-driven decision-making
That was like a three-dayconference or whatever.
So I got this certificate thatmade me the expert in it.
And then I go into the buildingand I'm trying to roll this out

, realizing no, I'm missing thepoint.
I need to build capacity of theconcepts of it and then ask
teachers to think about how wecan make it work in our school.
And when I let go, it excelled.
It exceeded my expectations andour students did better.
So similarly withimplementation of AI, we need to

make sure not only are webuilding support and capacity
for our educators, we're helping, you know.
We're creating an environmentwhere they can help communicate
and usher in what it means forthat school community.
You know I'll take a step backand say I'm excited about the
potential here.
Yeah it's a little nervewracking because there's a whole

new body of work here, but Idon't profess to be the expert
in it.
I think this is an excitingopportunity where we create
structures where we share notonly the opportunities but the
guardrails that we need for ourstudents to be safe, unlike what
we didn't do when the Internetcame out, there were no
guardrails and we saw whathappened there, or social media.

Now we're starting to put inguardrails, you know.
So we have to learn from thatand put guardrails, but let's
see where it goes.
You know, just like Hassancreated a website before this
was in vogue, imagine thepotential of our country when we
unleash in increments that areage appropriate for students an

opportunity to exploreartificial intelligence, to
enhance learning, not replace.
But I think we're going to gofrom a system of analog learning
or rote learning to reallycreative, problem solving and
engaging instruction andlearning, and I think in many
ways it could help acceleratethe shift away from memorization

and facts or test prep.
You know we need to get awayfrom that.
We need to give our studentsbetter, and I know our teachers
have been thirsting for that foryears.
So I'm really excited aboutthis.
That's great.

Speaker 3 (12:09):
And I think it also has the opportunity to increase
teacher capacity andproductivity helping them, you
know, free them, if you will,performing all the ministerial
tasks that they can delegate toyou know, a virtual assistant,
if you will and at the same timeget feedback to students much

more quickly and much moreeffectively.
We just recently acquired abusiness called Writeable, which
is using generative AI forwriting practice.
If you think about the amountof time and effort that goes
into giving really good feedbackin a revision process to

students, it's a lot, and sostudents don't get as much
practice as they ordinarilyshould.
But with you know, that kind ofsupport of generative AI, the
teacher is able to increasetheir capacity and get students
really good feedback on a muchmore timely basis than they
would otherwise.

Speaker 1 (13:11):
Yeah, that sounds exciting.
You know, and you're absolutelyright.
Not only are there benefits forstudents, but benefits for
You know, and I think one ofthe things that I want to just
point out that we also have tolearn from our history when it
comes to innovation andeducation is that we need to
invest time in educatordevelopment.

We can't expect, after you knowhalf an hour, you know, drive
by staff meeting on AI thatthey're going to be experts and
then we expect them to dosomething without giving them
the support and professionaldevelopment that they need to be
to grow in their craft.
Right, we can.
You know the days of squeezingeverything into a one hour staff

meeting or, you know, during aprep time.
It's just, we got to make surethat we're investing in our
educators to develop thoseskills to be successful.
So that's a challenge that Ihave out there as well.
You know, if we're seriousabout seeing AI really transform
education, we need to make surethat we're providing time to
give our educators theopportunity to learn and grow

with it.

Speaker 3 (14:19):
Yeah, exactly, secretary.
A few moments ago you mentionedthe word guardrails, so I
wanted to ask you aboutguardrails and, in particular,
thinking about the federal rolein regulating AI.
How are you and your teamtrying to navigate the need to
protect the role of teachers ineducation and student privacy

while also allowing enough roomfor innovation, what you're
talking about earlier and you'recoming back with data-driven

Speaker 1 (14:51):
Well, you know this really goes to the top.
The president put out anexecutive order that has
tentacles in many differentagencies, not just mine, to make
sure that while we embrace thepotential, we're also protecting
our students, our families, ournational intelligence, our

defense data, our banks.
You know there's a lot of riskif not controlled well and, with
regard to education, as I saidearlier, you know it has the
potential to unleash it.
Our report that we published inMay of last year starts to get
into what that means and what itcould look like.

We are starting to see modelsof districts that are thinking
about it in a way that says howdo we bring the people to the
It can't be done to a district.
It has to be done with adistrict right, parent
engagement, a betterunderstanding of what the
potentials are, what the risksare.
You know there's a lot of bias,risk in AI and as the systems

get better, we also have to beaware at what point, you know,
do we bring things in front ofstudents or give them an
opportunity to explore it,knowing that you know we need to
protect them.
So that process, to me, is aprocess that we do with folks
and because it's changing soquickly.
I don't profess that we're goingto be ahead of the curve on

We have to see how it goes andas it grows, we look for ways
that it can be authenticallyengaged in instruction.
But make no mistake, it cannotreplace an educator.
Be authentically engaged ininstruction but make no mistake,
it cannot replace an educator.
It cannot replace the schoolexperience.
I don't even know that thereare pockets of people saying

that it can.
It can enhance learning.
I think that, as I said earlier, the experience with the
pandemic you can have the besttechnology, the best curriculum
There's no replacing aneducator in the classroom and
the relational foundation that ateacher provides with children.
Everything else comes after andyou know, for us it's about

student safety, protecting theirrights and ensuring that
whatever tool we use whetherit's AI, laptop, doesn't matter
it's enhancing learning, notreplacing a person or a

Speaker 3 (17:15):
Right exactly.
As you may know, Secretary, weconduct an annual survey of
teachers and education leaderscalled the Educator Confidence
That looks at the sentiment ofeducators across a number of
topics, and what we found in amost recent report and survey is

that 82% of teachers want amore fellow educators and
students and the socialemotional needs of students.
What role do you think youroffice can play in mitigating

Speaker 1 (18:08):
issues such as teacher burnout and staffing
You know I've been unapologetic, outspoken advocate for lifting
the profession, and what I meanby lifting it is giving it the
dignity that it deserves.
When we talk about teachershortages, I talk about them as
a symptom of a teacher respectissue in this country.

I talk about the ABCs ofteaching.
Agency is A.
You know, let's treat them likeprofessionals and let them make
B is better working conditionsensuring that there are enough
mental health supports forstudents and staff, that
teachers are not always beingasked to do more with less.
That teachers are notnormalizing working in a 95

degree classroom in June becausethere's no air conditioning, in
a building that's over 100years old that no other
corporation would allow theiremployees to work in.
That's B.
C is competitive salary.
On average, teachers make 24%less than people with similar
degrees in other professions.
Why do we normalize that?
The profession is about 75%women.

Would it be the same if it were75% men?
We have to have theseconversations and if our country
is going to grow the way itshould grow, if we're going to
lead the world the way I expectus to lead the world because we
have the potential, then we needto invest in our educators
I always say you know, we wantFinland results, but we don't

put in Finland investments.
So for me, what we're doing atthe Department of Education is
number one.
I'm using my platform as a bullypulpit to talk about the
importance of elevating theteaching profession, of not just
talking about it during TeacherAppreciation Week, but really
when it's contract time, whenit's time to you know, look at

ratios of teachers and studentsproviding mental health supports
in the community and foreducators.
I talk about teacherprofessional development.
You know teachers pay out oftheir pocket to go to
conferences on weekends.
What other profession does thatreally call out what has been
normalized and and just reallyrevisit how we support or don't

support our educators.
There's a.
There's an you know a term likethe martyrdom.
I say we've accepted martyrdomwhen teachers are making.
There's some States in ourcountry where teachers start at
$38,000 a year.
That's unacceptable.
That's basically saying you'regoing to have to get another job

to make ends meet and in toomany of our states teachers
qualify for state assistance.
We're okay with that in thiscountry.
So my mentality is let's setthe bar high.
Why are we not talking aboutteachers making $100,000 a year.
If they're responsible formeeting the needs of our
learners, who have increasedneed, mental health need, why

are we not talking about that?
You know we're pushing toprovide public service loan
forgiveness for teachers thathave worked 10 years, that have
paid their loans for 10 years.
We're eliminating debt.
I've talked to teachers thathave had over $100,000 in debt
But we have to do a better job,making sure the working
conditions are adequate, makingsure the salary is competitive,

or else we're going to have abunch of schools with a lot of
substitute teachers and we'regoing to be expecting our
students to meet the demand ofthis country.
So when you ask me, what am Idoing about it?
Yes, we have grants.
We have the Augusta Hawkinsgrant that pays for Grow your
Own programs.
We have over a billion dollarsin teacher quality programs.
You know the president.
This president has done more ineducation for three years in

three years than I've seen in my25-year career in education
$130 billion when he walked inthe door with the American
Rescue Plan.
The BISCIP plan put $2 billionin mental health supports and
safer school environments andwe're going to continue.
If you look at our annualbudget, we're going to continue
fighting for our profession, forour educators, but at all

You know, I always say it's notjust the federal government.
Our states, our local districtsneed to recognize you either
pay a competitive salary now oryou're going to pay later when
you don't have enough teachersto fill the classrooms.
Our students deserve better andfor me, any opportunity I get,
including this one, to say itloud and proud.
I'm going to say it because Iknow these teachers are going to
work no matter what and it'snot fair that we take advantage

of it.
Knowing that our country'sgrowth is in the balance.
We need to step up for teachers.
We're doing it in our policy,in our words and in our actions,
and it's something that I takegreat pride in, not only during
Teacher Appreciation Week butthroughout the year, to say, you
know, let's stand up for ourteachers.
They stood up for our kids.
We need to step up.

Speaker 3 (22:55):
Well said and I agree that you know we have
normalized low pay and theseconditions and it's great to see
what you're doing to helpmitigate those concerns.
One of the things thateducation leaders did during and
after the pandemic is usedESSER funding and for a number

of different purposes, but oneof the things that they did was
they used ESSER funding toaddress this intractable problem
of low teacher pay and now, asa result, the cost structures
reflect many school districtswhere low teacher, where you've
remedied that particular issueof low teacher pay through the

ESSER funds.
But these are one-time non-re.
It's a one-time non-refundingsource.
Have you been talking aboutschools, about how they can
sustain that investment?

Speaker 1 (23:55):
Yes, and I have to say we've been working with
governors, with statelegislators, across the country.
We have about 29 states justlast year alone that have
increased teacher salary.
We want more, but we are seeingthat shift.
And you're right, the AmericanRescue Plan dollars were just
that rescue dollars, recoverydollars.

It wasn't intended to make upfor decades of underinvestment
by states.
The federal government pays 9%of all education funding just 9%
The other 91% also has to stepup.
So my mentality is look, let'smatch the urgency of the
president when it comes toeducation funding and if you
look at our annual budget, we'reseeking to increase Title I by

That goes to the schools thathave the greatest need.
So you'll see, in our annualbudget we're really pushing for
additional education dollars.
I'm going to be in front ofCapitol Hill at some of these
hearings that are going to go onfour to five hours, fighting
for a budget that reflects thatwe need to continue to invest in
education and thatresponsibility goes across the

So, while we're recognizingthat the American Rescue Plan
dollars, the BISCA dollars,which is again $2 billion for
mental health, has a sunset,we're also fighting for the
annual budget.
We're fighting to make surethat there's sustainable dollars
there and I think that's an allhands on deck proposition that
we're proud to fight and I'mproud to stand up the

president's record.
Meanwhile, you know I wasdealing with proposals from the
other side that were calling for80% cut to Title I.
That's a 200,000 teachersacross the country.
You know we have to do better.
We have to do better across thecountry.

Speaker 3 (25:40):
You know we have to do better.
We have to do better.
Given it's Teacher AppreciationWeek, what are the top three
things we can do?

Speaker 1 (25:48):
as a country to foster a broader appreciation
for teachers.
Well, look, I said it beforeand I'm going to say it again
what we need to do are the ABCsof teaching provide agency and
treat our teachers like theprofessionals that they are and
allow for their voice, allow fortheir input on the things that
we're doing to improve ourschools and our districts and

our communities.
That's agency B is betterworking conditions.
Ensure that they have the toolsthat they need to do their jobs
, that they're not digging intotheir pocket anytime they need
to do something for students,despite being paid 24 percent
less than other professions ofsimilar degrees.
Ok, and that their schools havethe ample resources so that you

know kids can get the supportsthat they need.
Our teachers are wearing manyhats.
We need to provide betterworking conditions for our
educators and see competitivesalary.
You know we have to stop what Icall the martyrdom, where we
make teachers feel guilty ifthey're advocating for

competitive salary.
And some folks try to turn itaround and say you're not for
the kids if you're fighting forcompetitive salary.
Absolutely wrong.
We want the best for our kidsand we're not going to be able
to sustain high-quality teachersin our classrooms if we're not
investing in our educators.
Investing in our educators isinvesting in our students in our
So for me, it's the ABCs keep itsimple, and I think that's the

I felt that way when I was afourth grade teacher.
I felt that way all the waythrough to secretary of
education and as a father of twostudents who attended public
schools, I feel that way as afather.
So ABCs happy teacherappreciation week.
Great to be with you today.
I really appreciate you givingme some time to talk about the
best profession that there isand one that changes the world

so thank you.

Speaker 3 (27:40):
That's a great way to finish, Secretary Cardona.
Thank you so much for being sogenerous with your time and
showing your appreciation forour nation's teachers.

Speaker 1 (27:50):
Well, thank you all I really appreciate it and thanks
for all you do to really upliftthe profession and your
contribution to what I think isa really important topic at this
time in our country.

Speaker 3 (28:00):
Thank you, secretary, take care.

Speaker 2 (28:02):
If you or someone you know would like to be a guest
on the Teachers in Americapodcast, please email us at
shaped at HMHCOcom.
Be the first to hear newepisodes of Teachers in America
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If you enjoyed today's show,please rate, review and share it
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You can find the transcript ofthis episode on our Shape blog
by visiting hmhcocom.
Forward slash shape.
The link is in the show notes.
The Teachers in America podcastis a production of HMH.
Executive producers areChristine Condon and Tim Lee.
Editorial direction is byChristine Condon.

It is creatively directed andaudio engineered by Tim Lee.
Our producer and editor isJennifer Carujo.
Production designers are MiaFry and Thomas Velazquez.
Shape block post editors forthe podcast are Christine Condon
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