Michelle Burke never thought teaching science and running a technology education program at Addams Junior High School in Schaumburg would earn her a seat at the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill.
But it has.
Burke will be the guest of 8th District Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth at next Tuesday's presidential address in Washington, D.C.
"Never in a million years!" she marveled.
Burke met Duckworth when the congresswoman attended a Addams Junior High FUSE event last October. FUSE is a specific science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) program developed by Northwestern University.
Burke said Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 has been a strong supporter of STEAM, and so has Duckworth.
Duckworth, meanwhile, said her October meeting with Burke provided the first spark of an idea about whom to have as her guest at the State of the Union.
"She just struck me by how enthusiastic she was and the connection she had with the students," Duckworth said.
The congresswoman added that she knows how important the work of teachers like Burke is. Traveling her district, she regularly talks with business owners who say they can't find enough workers with the appropriate technical and engineering skills.
Without teachers like Burke showing kids the interesting and fun aspects of these disciplines, America will fall behind in the 21st century, Duckworth said.
"It's less rote memorization these days," Duckworth added. "These kids are learning by doing. They're building robots."
Burke will fly to Washington on Monday and spend nearly the entire day with Duckworth as her guest at various preliminary events before the evening State of the Union address.
Duckworth said she expects the day to be a memorable one for Burke, remembering her own first time at a State of the Union address as the guest of Sen. Dick Durbin.
While Burke doesn't know everything that happened behind the scenes leading to her invitation, she just knows how shocked she was when District 54 Assistant Superintendent Nick Meyers told her last week.
As for how her students reacted -- Burke hadn't even told them as of noon Wednesday. She wanted to make absolutely certain there were no mistakes or miscommunication first, but she considers the recent arrival of her plane ticket to be a good sign.
Burke said there's almost no comparison between her own amount of exposure to technology and engineering instruction in junior high to what her own students receive both in class and through FUSE.
Rocketry and robotics are suddenly cool to a generation of children -- both girls and boys -- who recognize such skills and know-how as the key to a successful future.
Burke has taught in District 54 for 13 years. When she was preparing to be a teacher, she gravitated naturally to the subject of science, Burke said.
"I just innately love the content and I've always been a problem-solver," Burke said.