The National Education Association welcomed Vice President Joe Biden to the stage at their annual meeting Tuesday, and the speech quickly became a rallying cry against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
"We're no different than any other profession in the world, but we are a profession," Biden said early on.
His wife, Dr. Jill Biden, introduced him in front of more than 7,000 NEA delegates at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Both of the Bidens emphasized their own teaching backgrounds in their remarks, calling for policies that treat teachers with dignity.
"Being a teacher is not what I do," Dr. Biden said. "It's who I am."
The vice president was warmly received by the NEA, which voted at their 2011 annual meeting to support President Barack Obama's reelection bid.
Biden specifically took issue with Romney's desire to send Title I money for disadvantaged students to private schools. He also pointed to school problems in Pennsylvania, calling for teachers and students to be equipped with modern classroom technologies.
Bryan Sanguinito, a music teacher from Reading, Pa., agreed with Biden's Romney criticism.
"When we try to take money away from public education instead of investing in our children, these things are going to keep happening across the country," Sanguinito said, "and unfortunately, if Mitt Romney gets elected, it's going to be darker days ahead."
Sanguinito and his fellow Pennsylvania delegate Richard Askey both expressed their support for Biden and Obama, complaining of a lack of resources in their districts.
"What we need in Harrisburg is funding," Askey said. "We've lost a third of our teaching staff over the past three years—with this year we'll have lost over 300 teachers."
Biden declared that rich Americans should be asked to give more, a stance likely to be more divisive among the U.S. electorate in the fall than his compliments to educators. "But nothing has been asked of them in this horrendous recession," he said.
After calling for "a tax system where everybody pays their fair share," the former Delaware senator ended his NEA visit on a softer note, paraphrasing the words of William Butler Years on the topic of education.
"It is not filling the pail," Biden said. "It's lighting the fire."
Photo credits: Brian Warmoth