The American Federation of Teachers presented Steven Van Zandt with its Making a Difference award on Saturday (July 10). The award, which was presented virtually during the AFT’s TEACH summer educational issues conference, recognizes the rock musician’s “years of work promoting and appreciating the work of educators.”

In a taped acceptance speech to the audience of educators, Van Zandt said, “This is an amazing award, coming from my favorite people — you! You, my friends, are the ones who make a difference every day. Teachers are on the frontlines against ignorance. Honestly, we have never needed you more.”

Van Zandt also noted that the “A” for arts in STEAM education is essential to helping engage students. STEAM is an arts-inclusive twist on the well-known STEM acronym, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“There are no wrong answers in the arts,” Van Zandt said. “The arts provide a comfort zone, and that extends to other disciplines. I can’t overstate my appreciation for all you do and for this award. I salute you. You are helping to create the next generation of engineers, scientists, doctors, nurses, artists, activists, writers and even musicians.”

Van Zandt is a founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and also leads his own group, the Disciples of Soul. Additionally, he is an award-winning actor and a noted activist.

With the E Street Band, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the musical excellence category in 2014. With the rest of the cast of HBO’s The Sopranos, Van Zandt received two SAG Awards (and seven nominations) for outstanding performance in a drama series.

Van Zandt, 70, attended Middletown High School in Middletown Township in Monmouth County, N.J., in the mid-to-late 1960s. He was kicked out of school for having long hair. He went back to school to appease his mother and ultimately graduated in 1968.

Randi Weingarten, AFT president, said in a statement: “Steven passionately spreads the gospel of teachers’ tireless work and actively engages with teachers and students during regular classroom visits and through, his free online music and arts curriculum. He lends his name and notoriety to supporting educators, which is particularly special given everything they’ve done to support students in the last year.”

She noted that Van Zandt doesn’t miss a chance to publicly promote the work of teachers, including at his concerts and on his SiriusXM radio show. He has even walked picket lines with striking teachers.

Weingarten said that the silver lining of the pandemic was that the public saw just how hard teachers worked to support their students during such challenging times. “Steven knew this long before the pandemic and speaks truth to power whenever and wherever he can.”

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