Jill Biden Surprises the National Teacher of the Year on TV (with Flowers!)

"She is just the epitome of great teacher, a great educator," the first lady said of Nevada's Juliana Urtubey

Immediately after Juliana Urtubey was named the 2021 National Teacher of the Year, she got another surprise Thursday morning: First Lady Dr. Jill Biden arrived to Urtubey's Nevada classroom with a bouquet of flowers and an excited "congratulations!"

"She is just the epitome of great teacher, a great educator," Biden, 69, said on CBS This Morning, which announced Urtubey's new honor and captured Biden's unannounced appearance.

The first lady has been an English and writing instructor for decades and told CBS that spotlighting the profession is one of her goals in the White House.

"I think for so long teachers were undervalued but now, hopefully, all of America, after this pandemic, has seen what teachers have done and how they've just taken care of our kids," Biden said. "It's just been such a tough time, and teachers have risen to this moment."

Urtubey, an elementary and special education teacher, said she was "obviously elated" by Biden's surprise. She also grew emotional as she listened to some of her students tell CBS about how she had changed them.

"She didn't just see the students as students," one of them said on CBS This Morning.

Another agreed, calling Urtubey — also known among students as "Ms. Earth," for her use of gardens in her teaching — "kind-hearted, all knowing, fun yet also sort of serious when it comes to our behavior."

US First Lady Jill Biden speaks with students in Becky Taylors classroom as she visits the Christa McAuliffe School in Concord, New Hampshire, on March 17, 2021
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden (left) speaks with students ias she visits the Christa McAuliffe School in Concord, New Hampshire, on March 17. SUSAN WALSH/POOL/AFP via Getty

Speaking with CBS, Urtubey choked up as she reflected on her career.

"I get to be part of a whole new world with so many students. I haven't seen so mammy of those students in such a long time, so it's so beautiful. I'm just so excited," she said.

Later, after the first lady's surprise, the pair was interviewed on CBS This Morning where Urtubey also talked about the support she said teachers need moving forward, including pay commensurate with their work and the resources to ensure "joyous and just education."

"My job is to make sure that I help my students find their strengths. Kids with thinking and learning differences have so many possibilities, so much potential," she said, "and it's just my job to find it, make them believe it and then help them grow."

It was the students, said the first lady (who is thought to be the first in her position to work outside the White House), that kept her in the classroom as well.

"They make such a difference, and I think it's our job to give them confidence and give them skills and, like Juliana said, to give them joy and support in their lives," Biden said.

The first lady is on a two-day trip through Colorado, Nevada and Utah where she is visiting with teachers and nurses and talking about the administration's work on COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

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