With Georgia schools opening in the coming weeks, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona spent two days in Atlanta and Augusta discussing classroom issues, including what he called the "toxic disrespect of educators."

During a visit to Agnes Scott College on Monday in which he was interviewed onstage by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Maureen Downey, Cardona told the audience of teachers, administrators and concerned citizens that issues like book bans and thinning budgets are problematic for schools.

"We have folks that are really attacking public education at a time when teachers are really stepping up," he said. "We have those who have the nerve to go after our schools go after our educators instead of working with them."

Cardona, a veteran educator, said that some people "have mistaken our selflessness for submission," and encouraged fellow educators in attendance to speak up.

"When teachers connect with students and families, there's a magic that happens," he said. "There's no dark cloud that's going to cover that. Our educators are dedicated and committed."

In separate remarks to the American School Counselor Association national convention in Atlanta, Cardona focused on the "youth mental health crisis in this country."

"1 in 3 high school girls has considered suicide in the last three years," he said. "I'm fighting for education funding to make sure that the students have the mental health supports that they need."

"To the teachers that are getting ready to go to school in Georgia, we got your back," Cardona said. "We're fighting for you. We want to make sure that you are respected as a profession. [That] you're getting a competitive salary and you have good working conditions."

Cardona wrapped up his visit to Georgia by joining first lady Jill Biden in Augusta on Tuesday for the White House's "Invest in America" tour.

In May, the Biden administration selected Augusta as one of five "workforce hub" cities, an initiative focusing on cities that have "received significant investments from both the federal government and private companies," Dr. Biden told the audience during a tour of Atlanta Technical College.

The visit highlighted the connection between the Biden administration's infrastructure law and preparing the workforce, beginning in middle and high schools.

"Our K-12 school systems are feeding our two-year and four-year schools by giving students an opportunity in high school to get credits… directly aligned with the careers that will be available for these students," Cardona said. "You don't need to be in college debt to get these jobs."