WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama honored finalists Tuesday for the 2013 National Teacher of the Year award and saluted the winner, Zillah High School teacher Jeff Charbonneau, during a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.

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Charbonneau was announced as the award-winner on Monday. He is credited with improving enrollment in science classes at his school.

Obama also made special mention of the six educators who died last December in Newtown, Conn., during a shooting spree where a lone gunman also killed 20 elementary school children.

The president said teachers encourage children’s passions and inspire their imaginations.

“These teachers, they are the ones we entrust with our kids, they are the people who love our kids,” he said.

Obama said the teachers didn’t go into this line of work for light hours and easy work, but because of their passion for helping children. He thanked them for not only instructing a given subject, but also teaching students character, compassion, resilience and imagination.

“They’re filling young minds with virtues and values,” he said. “They’re teaching our kids to cooperate and overcome obstacles.”

Charbonneau started a program to help students get college credit for the classes they take at the high school but not through Advanced Placement tests.

Charbonneau started teaching in 2001 at Zillah. He instructs students in chemistry, physics, engineering and architecture, and he runs a statewide robotics competition, serves as yearbook adviser and started an outdoors club.

Charbonneau said he greets his students every day with, “Welcome back to another day in paradise.”

He said the work brings its own reward.

“You see the wrinkles,” he said during the award ceremony at the White House. “Wrinkles are the born witness to the hours of laughter and the moments of joy that come from sharing the art of discovery with our students.”

The president said he has a “soft spot” for teachers since his sister is an educator, as was his mother. While math and science teachers are often lauded, he also recognized English, art, music and history teachers for inspiring children to pursue their passion.

As Obama took pictures with the educators, he joked that if any have problems with their students, “tell them the president said ...,” and the teachers laughed.