The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
May 9, 2003

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Teach for America Event at Arizona State University
Maxine O. Bush Elementary School
Phoenix, Arizona

Thank you, Cristina for the wonderful welcome. Ms. Berselli said you were a great reader and I can see that she is right. Thank you, President Crow and students of Arizona State for welcoming me to the home of the Sun Devils. I am delighted to be here with Beth Berselli, a Teach For America teacher. Beth is one of nine thousand TFA teachers in America's classrooms - and one of nearly 120 top college graduates teaching in Phoenix.

Laura Bush visits the 5th grade class of Teach for America teacher Beth Berselli at Maxine O. Bush Elementary School in Phoenix, Ariz., May 9, 2003.  White House photo by Susan Sterner Beth has inspired her sister to teach, and she is inspiring some of her students as well - especially Cristina. Cristina's favorite subject is Math and someday she hopes to teach math to second and third graders. She is eleven years old now, but we will need Cristina in our classrooms of the future. And we need each one of you.

Today in America, we have more students in school than ever before. More children who want the American dream - and who undeniably deserve it. More than two million new teachers will be needed in America's classrooms in the next decade - and you can be one of them. Teach For America wants you to become the teachers of tomorrow. Through this program you will be placed in a school where your leadership skills and talent are truly needed. And you will have mentors to guide you along the way - mentors like Beth.

We need more like teachers like Beth in Arizona's and America's classrooms - more who believe that every child can learn - and that every child deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. We need teachers with diverse academic backgrounds who will commit to teaching for two years in an urban or rural public school, where teachers are desperately needed.

Philosopher John Dewey said, "Education is not preparation for life - education is life itself." Each of you here today has an opportunity to improve the life of a child in your community. Think about this awesome privilege for just a moment. There are few professions where you can see the impact of your work so vividly. There aren't many jobs where hero and best friend are part of the job description. And there are few careers that have such a lasting effect on an entire generation and an entire nation. Teachers fill children's lives with hope, learning and love - not just on school days, but every day of their life.

This is what Beth does. I first met Beth two years ago while she was working as a reporter at the Washington Post. But it was not the last time I would meet her. Although Beth enjoyed her job, she didn't feel fulfilled. She heard about Teach For America while covering a school board meeting and decided it was time to give something back to her community. Beth left her job and joined Teach For America. Before she traveled to Arizona, she visited me - and since I was a public school teacher in Texas - she asked for some advice.

Even the little advice I offered could not have prepared Beth for this experience. As Beth said, "working in an inner-city school has been a real eye opener." Many TFA teachers agree. Many are surprised to find their students can not read at grade level and some struggle with the alphabet. This is not uncommon. Nationwide, two-thirds of fourth graders in our poorest schools can not read a simple children's book.

Beth did not want her students to face similar odds. Today her students are not only learning, but excelling at reading, fractions, and science. One of her students has improved from a fourth to a sixth grade reading level. Although she loves her job, Beth is the first to admit that teaching is difficult. Students' needs are many and varied. In every classroom across the country, there are children from single family homes and those who come to school hungry. The responsibilities of teachers have expanded to meet these needs.

Beth said, "In my last job, I wasn't really making any contribution. If I hadn't done this, I'd still be a successful reporter, but I wouldn't have any life experience. I have met so many amazing kids in the last year. Students.who are eager to learn and are succeeding at it despite everything. For kids like them, I show up everyday and try my best to teach."

Beth, thank you for your commitment to children. Your energy and enthusiasm for teaching is reflected in your students' enthusiasm for learning. Although they think you are the hardest teacher they've ever had, they all say you are the best teacher they've ever had. Chelzeha thinks that Ms. Berselli is a great teacher because she makes learning fun. Her favorite subject is science and right now in class, she is learning about the human body.

Chelzeha especially enjoyed a project where she traced the outline of her body on a big piece of paper and then colored and pasted organs in their appropriate places. She learned about her heart, liver and kidneys. And she learned that she likes science so much, she wants to build computers someday. Ms. Berselli taught Katherine how to add and subtract fractions - and she'll need to know her math if she wants to become a doctor some day.

There are few professions where you can make such a difference. In many jobs you can work nine to five; you can sit at a desk doing the same thing day after day. But with teaching, every day is a new day and every child is unique. For Beth, the rewards of teaching are the love and admiration of children and the benefit of knowing that she is making a difference. If you want to make a difference and help change a child's life, then teaching is for you.

Teaching is the absolute profession, the one that makes all others possible. Teachers help students develop the skills they need for a lifetime of learning and a lifetime of possibility. Our children's future success depends on their education. And America's future depends on our teachers. Arizona's children are depending on you. Best wishes to each of you as you finish ASU and go out into the world. When you leave here, I hope you'll think about becoming a teacher. Thank you.


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