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Maryland high school English teacher honoured by Obama as National Teacher of the Year

President Obama and 2014 National Teacher of the Year finalists applaud Sean McComb, second from right, a high school English teacher from Maryland who helps push students toward college, as the 2014 National Teacher of the Year, Thursday, May 1, 2014, during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

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President Obama and 2014 National Teacher of the Year finalists applaud Sean McComb, second from right, a high school English teacher from Maryland who helps push students toward college, as the 2014 National Teacher of the Year, Thursday, May 1, 2014, during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON - A Maryland high school teacher who helps push students toward college was honoured at the White House on Thursday as the National Teacher of the Year. The educator, Sean McComb, said he himself benefited from an inspiring teacher during his childhood.

President Barack Obama presented an apple trophy to McComb, an English teacher from Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts near Baltimore where he works with students in a college readiness program. Among the past two graduating classes in the program, 98 per cent were admitted to a four-year college, Obama said.

"It's a tribute to Sean that one of his students asked him, 'What do you think about me becoming a teacher?'" Obama said. "Sean asked him, 'What subject do you want to teach?' and the student said, 'It doesn't matter. I just want to have as much fun as you do every day.'"

The Teacher of the Year designation means McComb, 30, will travel around the country next year to advocate on behalf of teachers.

Obama joked that the award wasn't even the best thing to happen to McComb this year. That's because he has a newborn son, who sat nuzzled into his mother's lap in the audience.

Obama said McComb as a high school student "dealt with some pretty serious problems at home and spent his days feeling apathetic and disengaged." He credited an English teacher with making McComb work harder and with giving him the strength, when McComb's mother died, to deliver her eulogy.

"So Sean himself saw the impact that a teacher could have in a child's life," Obama said.

McComb said he became a teacher "because I've had incredible teachers who have been able to shine a light of hope and possibility into a dark time in my life."

McComb cautioned policy makers to undertake changes in education judiciously.

"It must value the complexity of the work and it must be done with civil and critical conversations that respect the knowledge and experience of our classroom teachers," he said.

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