They had us line up as a group from tallest to shortest and practice walking into the East Room where the ceremony honoring the National Teacher of the Year would take place. The atmosphere was light; we were all so excited and ready to finally get that handshake from President Obama. I was just focusing on walking across the wooden floor of the East Room without slipping!
After we finished practicing we still had a while to take more photos and make sure the hair looked good. Seriously, this part of the day was so much fun! I wasn't nervous. I was happy and felt blessed to have this amazing opportunity! Finally they lined us up again, and we began the long wait as each one of us got our chance to meet the President in the Blue Room.
While I was in line, I peeked ahead and could see glimpses of the President reaching out to shake each teacher's hand. It reminded me of seeing skits on Saturday Night Live where someone plays the President. But this was really him! That's when I started to get a little nervous.
As I reached the Blue Room, two Marines stood at the doorway. One of them asked if we were excited. (Duh!) A young Marine came and took the card in my hand that had Utah and my name printed on it. He told me specifics of what to do when it was my turn.
Finally, I saw the two flashes from Jane's (WI) photo, and I walked forward. The Marine said, "From Utah, Allison Riddle." The President turned to me, put out his hand, and said, "Hi Allison, what grade do you teach?" "It's an honor to meet you, Mr. President," I said, "I teach 5th grade." He spoke to me for a quick minute about how 5th graders must be easier than 7th or 8th graders, and then we posed for the photo.
At that point, my visit would have ended, but I thought to myself, Why not? I'm never going to be invited back! It's obvious my state didn't give him any electoral votes, so I decided to have some fun with him. Ya him, the leader of the free world.
I turned to the President, looked at him directly and smiled. He looked at me very seriously. I said, "Mr. President, I bring you greetings - from me,(I put my hand to my chest), and the 12 other democrats in my state!"
At that point the President laughed so loudly that I got scared. What if the secret service or one of these Marines hauls me off for making him laugh so hard? He grabbed my hand while he was laughing and shook it - hard - about three times.
The President stopped, leaned in close to my face, and said very sarcastically, "I think there's 20!"
We both laughed and I said, "Thank you, Mr. President." I turned and left the room. As another Marine announced my name and I walked very carefully into the East Room, I was busting with joy. I had shared a moment of humor with the President of the United States! Me! Little old Utah! The state I'm sure he rarely thinks of!
After each teacher had finally been announced and walked up to the stage, President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Sean McComb, National Teacher of the Year, entered and joined us on stage. The ceremony was just as exciting, in part because I was standing on the EDGE of the riser, and I was anxious about falling off the edge in my high heels!! It was surreal and humbling to stand behind the President as he spoke to the guests and media assembled there about the value of teachers in our country. Our new National Teacher of the Year, Sean McComb, gave an inspiring speech, and I was so proud to stand and represent Utah's teachers with him and the 52 other incredible teachers by me. I was also so happy that my son Charley was there to be a part of this moment! This was truly a day I will never forget!