Rebecka Peterson national teacher of the year
Tulsa Union High School math teacher Rebecka Peterson speaks at the White House Rose Garden on Monday, April 24, 2022 (Gaylord News photo / Noah Mack)

WASHINGTON — National Teacher of the Year winner Rebecka Peterson — a high school math instructor in Tulsa — championed a unifying message of hope as her profession faces a stifling staffing shortage.

Peterson, a Swedish-Iranian immigrant, was honored at the White House Rose Garden Monday as Teacher of the Year. She teaches 10th and 12th grade math at Union High School and used her five minutes at the presidential podium to encourage a positive outlook for the nation’s teachers.

“‘Bearer of good news,’ the meaning of my Iranian name, is the phrase I’ve spent my career leaning into,” the 35-year-old Peterson said in her speech. “I want to bring the good news of joy and hope to my students and to reciprocate that gift of education that my teachers gave me.”

Biden critiques proposes House GOP budget

In the backdrop of Monday’s celebration, the United States has been plagued by a teacher shortage. The Department of Education reported at the end of 2022 that more than half of the nation’s public schools were understaffed.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

President Joe Biden took advantage of Monday’s ceremony — attended by the 50 state teachers of the year — to critique House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s newly unveiled budget proposal.

“If that were to pass, it would mean cutting up to 60,000 teaching jobs,” the president said at the celebration. “Cutting education is the last thing this country needs.”

Although he has not explicitly endorsed the cuts to education, U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK1) — Peterson’s congressman — said he generally supports McCarthy’s budget.

Hern, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said a “majority” of McCarthy’s budget proposal draws from his own words, outlined in the Republican Study Committee’s Debt Limit Playbook.

“It would be kind of disingenuous for me not to be supportive of it,” Hern said. “I’m from a very conservative district. I could do a lot more conservative.”


Rebecka Peterson

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McCarthy has criticized Biden — who released his own budget proposal back in March — for putting off the issue as the country reached its debt limit.  The House is scheduled to consider McCarthy’s budget proposal as early as Wednesday.

In an interview with Gaylord News, Peterson spoke directly to Oklahoma educators.

“To Oklahoma teachers I would say, ‘I see you; I am in this with you,’” Peterson said. “It is the honor of my lifetime to walk with you and walk for you.”

Ultimately, she said wants to see teachers treated with greater respect.

“It’s a profession that makes all other professions possible,” Peterson said. “I think teachers are the fabric of our communities, and so I want to see us wrap our arms around teachers in the same way teachers wrap our arms around our students.”