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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
February 17, 2004
Mrs. Bush's Remarks on TeachArkansas in Bentonville, Arkansas
Bentonville High School
10:56 A.M. CST
MRS. BUSH: Thanks very much to all of you. And thank you, Jessi, very much, for your inspiring words. I can tell you're giving all the credit to your teachers, and I think that's really terrific. Thanks also to Principal Jacoby, thank you and the students of Bentonville High School for welcoming me to the home of the Tigers.
I just met Mr. Chapman and his 11th grade world history class -- or government class. We had a great discussion about the history of World War II. We talked about turning points during the war and the example of everyday heroes. Mr. Chapman said that everyday heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Sounds a bit like a teacher to me.
Thanks to all the teachers who are here today. You do so much more than teach. As Jessi said, you inspire, you challenge and you mentor.
You may have read one of my favorite depictions of teaching. This is it: "If a doctor, lawyer or dentist had 40 people in his office all at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer or dentist, without assistants, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job." (Applause.)
Teaching is one of the most difficult jobs, but it's also the most rewarding. What you do in the classroom determines your children's future and the future of our country. President Bush believes in America's teachers, and that's why education and teacher recruitment are top priorities. The No Child Left Behind Act, which was signed into law by President Bush, provides nearly $3 billion for teacher training, and more than $60 million dollars for programs like TeachArkansas to recruit new teachers.
These new recruits will join dedicated teachers across the state who are making a remarkable difference for Arkansas students. Student scores in Arkansas, in reading and algebra, are going up. These results are proof that well-trained, caring teachers do make a difference in the classroom.
Thanks to Superintendent Compton and to Mr. Courtway for supporting innovative programs like TeachArkansas. And special thanks to Michelle Rhee, who didn't make it here today -- she's stuck on a plane in Cincinnati -- but she's the woman who runs The New Teacher Project. Thanks to Michelle's hard work, more than 6,000 new teachers are inspiring students in classrooms all across our country.
And today, you can become one of them. In our country, we have more students in school now than ever before. More children who want the American Dream and who undeniably deserve it. We'll need more than 2 million new teachers in America's classrooms in the next decade. We want teachers with diverse academic backgrounds who will commit to teaching in urban or rural public schools, where teachers are desperately needed. And we want teachers who believe that every child can learn and that every child deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
Philosopher John Dewey said, "Education is not preparation for life. Education is life." Each of you today has an opportunity to improve the life of a child in your community. Think about this awesome privilege for just a minute. There are few professions where you can see the impact of your work so vividly. And there aren't many jobs where hero and best friend are part of the job description. There are few careers that have such a lasting impact on an entire generation and an entire nation.
I know how rewarding and challenging teaching can be and what a remarkable difference a teacher can make in a child's life. When I was eight years old, I made the very mature decision to become a teacher. I decided this because I loved school and books and reading. And my mother said she knew I'd become a teacher when she heard me scolding my dolls for not paying attention. (Laughter.)
But the greatest influence on my decision to teach was my 2nd grade teacher, Miss Gnagy. She was my favorite teacher and I wanted to be just like her. When I became a teacher, I gained a whole new respect for Miss Gnagy and I found more to love about school. I loved it when my students would run up to me and tell me what books they'd read or how many teeth they'd lost. And I loved their excitement for learning.
And certainly one of the most memorable days of my whole career was that very first day of teaching. I had everything ready in my classroom: the chairs were perfectly positioned, the pencils sharpened. Then the children walked in. Well, some walked in, a few were pulled in by their parents. I had earned a teaching degree, but no textbook could have prepared me for the pressure of 20 sets of eyes staring at me with total expectation.
At 9:00 a.m., we started to work. We recited the alphabet and numbers. We colored and put together puzzles. We read a few books. And then a few more. And by 9:15 a.m., I had gone through my entire day's lesson plans. (Laughter.)
Even if they can't fill an entire day with lesson plans, teachers fill children's lives with hope and love every day. This is what Dena Yancey does. She joined TeachArkansas last year as a Spanish and literature teacher. Dena has always been interested in education. Like me, she had a great role model. Dena's mother, JoAnn, was a member of the Women's Emergency Committee in Arkansas. This group of women fought against segregation and championed the rights of all children to go to school. Dena has never forgotten her mother's passion and commitment.
Before she joined TeachArkansas, Dena was teaching at a private college in Tennessee. She enjoyed her job, but she didn't think she was truly making a difference. Her students knew that they could achieve their dreams with a good education. And Dena wanted to help more young people learn this valuable lesson. Today, she teaches her students at Robinson High School. She teaches them that there is a big world waiting for them out there. She shares her love of art and culture in every class -- whether studying Mayan mask making or the writings of Cervantes. And Dena sponsors many of her students for college scholarships.
Dena says, "I want my students to know that they can achieve anything they believe, if they believe in themselves. I teach them to apply what they learn in the classroom to their lives. I feel justified in my decision to teach at Robinson. Teaching is the most crucial and most important job one can have."
Dena is a great role model for her students and for future teachers. And I think Dena is here with us today. Are you Dena? Hey, Dena, thank you so much.
We need teachers like Dena, and each one of you, in our classrooms across America, so that every child has the opportunity to achieve their dreams. Mr. Chapman and Dena are doing a great -- the greatest community service ever. If you see yourselves in one of these remarkable people, then teaching is for you. Teaching is the absolute profession; it's the one that makes all the others possible.