For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 30, 2008
President Bush Welcomes 2008 National and State Teachers of the Year to the White House
In Focus: Education
11:20 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Good morning. Welcome to the White House. Welcome to the Rose Garden. We're walking out of the Oval Office, Mike turns to me and says, "I like what you've done with the place." (Laughter.) All I did was mow the lawn. (Laughter.) Glad you're here.
I'm really glad to be taking a part of an event that honors America's teachers. It's a tradition that started with Harry Truman. It's a tradition that Laura and I have really enjoyed carrying on. She's not here unfortunately. She sends her best. You know, I like to tell people that -- you know, one of the interesting questions you get in my line of work is "Can you name a teacher who had influenced you?" I said, "Yes, my wife." (Laughter.)
But she and Jenna are out promoting a new book that they wrote called "Read All About It." I'm not suggesting that people buy it, of course -- that would be unseemly here in the Rose Garden. (Laughter.) But it is a book where they're attempting to promote literacy. She sends her love. She understands what it means to be a teacher. We were so honored that our little girl chose to be a teacher, as well -- made her dad feel really well, I'm sure. I just hope you know the influence you have on children -- I suspect you do, that's why you're such a good teacher.
Good teachers hear a call. Good teachers are empathetic souls. And really the best teachers have a special intuition -- and I suspect a little potential -- the ability to see potential and the ability to have the patience necessary to watch it grow. I want to thank you for nurturing young minds. I thank you for providing such wonderful examples. And I thank you for inspiring the imaginations and unleashing the talents of our nation's young.
I'm up here with not only the Teacher of the Year, but with Margaret Spellings, the Secretary of Education. I do want to welcome Senator Gordon Smith and Senator Greg Walden. Turns out they're both from the state of Oregon. (Laughter.) I wonder why you're here. But anyway, I'm glad you're here. Thank you for being strong supporters of the teachers in your state.
I welcome the State Teachers of the Year. I really enjoyed seeing you in the Oval Office. It's fun for me to be able to greet you and say thank you. And I can't thank you enough for serving as such great role models for other teachers in your states, and we're sure glad you're here.
I do want to thank the National Teacher of the Year finalist, Lewis Chappalear, who is with us -- thank you Lewis, from California; June Teisan, from Michigan; as well as Tommy Smigiel, from Virginia -- that would be Norfolk, Virginia.
I am obviously up here with the Teacher of the Year. I'll spend a little time talking about Michael in a minute, but I am so proud that his mom and dad have joined us, as has he. Thank you for coming. I know it brings you great pride to have raised a son who is dedicated to helping others. His wife is with us, for whom I'll say something else a little later; son and daughter are with us, as well as brother. Thanks for coming.
Finally, we got Ken James, President-elect, Council of the Chief State School Officers, who administers the Teacher of the Year Program. Thanks for coming. And the rest of you are welcome here, too. (Laughter.)
One of the things that Margaret and I have tried to do is help teachers be able to set high standards and achieve accountability, and that was the spirit behind passing No Child Left Behind Act. It basically -- if you really think about the Act, it, one, refuses to, what I used to call -- still call -- refuses to accept the soft bigotry of low expectations. I firmly believe that if you have low expectations, you'll achieve them. I believe that when you say to people, we want you to achieve high expectations, you really have got this great faith in the human potential. I also believe that if you're a teacher that you ought to welcome a law that says we trust you in your ability to set high expectations.
And secondly, behind that law is a notion that we'd like at least to know whether or not people can read, write, and add and subtract. Good teachers understand that. As a matter of fact, the Teacher of the Year understands that, and I suspect you all do, as well. I'm often told that the accountability system is meant to punish. I don't think so. I think it's meant to diagnose and correct and reward. And you're Teachers of the Year because you've got kids in your classroom who are excelling. And the reason we know is because we measure.
And so I want to thank you for being people willing to set high standards. Curiously enough, because we do measure we have learned this fall that 4th-graders and 8th [graders] earned the highest math and reading scores in the history of our nation's report card. That's a positive sign. Eighth-graders set a record in math scores. In other words, because we are people who believe in accountability, we're beginning to get a sense for whether or not the achievement gap in America is closing. And it must close in order for this country to realize its full potential.
We understand that there's been some tough, tough neighborhoods, but that should not be an excuse for mediocrity, and I know our Teachers of the Year understand that, and are willing to challenge the status quo and expect the best. So we appreciate very much your work, and we hope Congress would reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, and we're committed to working with members of Congress to do it. The good news is the Act doesn't go away without reauthorization; it still exists.
And so what -- last week what Secretary Spellings did, because the Act hasn't been reauthorized, is that she announced a package of reforms that the Department of Education is now implementing to improve the No Child Left Behind Act -- reforms that support our teachers and provide help to struggling students.
One thing about No Child is that when you find somebody struggling, it's important to get extra resources to help that child get up to speed now, before it's too late. The reforms are going to deal with -- help schools deal with dropouts, increase accountability, and ensure that more students get the tutoring we want.
And so I want to thank you, Margaret, for being a leader, realizing the situation needs to be constantly improved, and improving it. And I think you'll find these additional tools and these measures will help you, not hurt you, and make it easier to do your job.
And I hope senators in Congress don't give up on reauthorization. I understand it's an election year and sometimes things don't get done, but this is a brilliant, important piece of legislation, and I thank you all for supporting us the first round, and I hope we can work together on this round as well.
One person who believes very strongly in the potential of each child is our Teacher of the Year, Michael Geisen, who happens to be from Prineville, Oregon. Before he entered teaching, interesting enough, if you're from Prineville, one of the options for you is to be a forester. And he loves nature, he's an outdoors guy, and yet he really longed to be with his fellow citizens. There's no better way to do so than teaching. And so seven years ago, after being a forester, he got in the classroom at Crook County Middle School.
It was not an easy time for that school when he entered. Crook County had gone through five principals in six years. Students' test scores had flatlined. In other words, kind of -- they were just maintaining, which is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to Michael; it should be unacceptable to everybody if we're just kind of maintaining.
And so Mike saw his challenge, and he rose to it. You raised a good guy. Great teachers like Mike are optimists who believe in setting high standards. He believes that every child can learn if given a chance. And so when he became head of the science department, he created assessments for the students, and he put a system in place to measure results. That's what confident, optimistic people do -- say, I'm not afraid to measure, and if you believe every child can learn, then you want to assess to make sure they are.
He knew the importance of parental involvement, so he created family-oriented school projects that would enlist moms and dads in their children's work. I suspect a lot of the Teachers of the Year understand how important that is. And that's why you're sitting out there. And he saw results. In his first two years as the department chair, the school state achievement scores in science rose from 55 percent to 72 percent, and they're still rising.
Great teachers like Mike instill a love of learning in young people. And so he captivates his students -- I told you about his humor, right? (Laughter.) "Did a fine job out here, President." (Laughter.) Well, he takes that humor into the classroom.
He also loves to use music in his classroom, and he has a hands-on science curriculum. So, like, on the music deal, so he turns to songs to get people to pay attention. One of the greatest hits he's used is about gravity. One I like was a blues song written from the perspective of a lonely bacterium. (Laughter.) Like, you can sing it here in the Rose Garden if you want to. (Laughter.)
MR. GEISEN: You got a band? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, probably suggest you don't. (Laughter.) I tried to dance here one time, and it -- (laughter) -- it didn't work. (Laughter.)
But here's what one of his students said: Mike Geisen "is such an awesome teacher" -- actually called him "Mr. Geisen" -- "he's an awesome teacher. He could make watching grass grow interesting." No wonder you're Teacher of the Year. One of his signature achievements is the annual science fair where the students create everything from electric cars to electric hotdog cookers. The fair culminates with what Mike calls "a legendary evening of science, creativity, food and wackiness." It's not what a lot of people think as a science class, to be frank with you, but nevertheless it's a reason he's the Teacher of the Year. He's found innovative ways to use his innate humor and creativity to encourage students to take science seriously -- and we need a lot of scientists in America.
He also is a role model. You all are all role models. He teaches his students about the importance of service by demonstrating it in his own life. One of the things he's done is he's volunteered a lot of time to raise money for a rock-climbing wall. He is an outdoorsman, as I told you. He strongly has -- respects the environment. And he's a family man. He's a role model because he's a good family man.
Jennifer is here, thank you for coming; as is Aspen and Johanna. As Mike says, he calls them his favorite teachers. Isn't that an interesting concept? They are -- I know they're proud of their dad, as is his family, and so am I. And so we join the Geisen family in congratulating Mike on his well-deserved recognition as the 2008 National Teacher of the Year. (Applause.)
I do want to say one final thing, and then we'll get Michael up here and let him give a speech. This is the last Teacher of the Year ceremony I get to do as President. And as I told you, I'm sorry Laura is not here, because she would share in this sentiment. This has really been one of the favorite events of ours during our time in Washington. You're probably just saying, of course, he says that to every event. (Laughter.) It's always a favorite.
Actually, this is a fabulous opportunity for us to thank our teachers, people who could be doing something else in life and have chosen to go in the classroom to lift somebody's life up, to make a difference in the future of the country.
And so I know you know this, you represent teachers from all over America. So when I thank you, I'm teaching -- I'm thanking teachers from all across our country. I appreciate you making our experience here in the White House a joyful experience. I thank you for making America a more hopeful place. And I ask God's blessings on your work and the work of teachers all across America.
And now, the Secretary and I will give Michael his award.
(The award is presented.)
THE PRESIDENT: Michael Geisen. (Applause.)
MR. GEISEN: I feel like one of my 7th-graders, wadded-up paper here in his pocket, that's all he's got, but he's there, you know, it's good.
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President and Secretary Spellings for inviting us here to the White House and honoring us for the important work that we do. Thank you to each of the teachers that have accompanied me on this life-changing journey; teachers that are here with me today, my colleagues, and the teachers that have helped me grow over the years as a professional and as a human being.
I want to say thank you to my family, especially to my wife, Jennifer, and to our two beautiful children, Aspen and Johanna. Your love and support are unconditional, and I appreciate it more than you know.
And thank you to my students. You bring me great joy every day. Every day. (Laughter.) And I wouldn't be here, of course, without them. So thank you to all of you.
I'm greatly humbled to be standing here today. There is no one person in America that is the best teacher, and I certainly don't claim to be that. There are many, many different ways to capture the hearts and minds of our children, and my way is just one among many successful ways to do that. Those of us here today represent all of the remarkable teaching that is happening in this country of ours. We're simply 56 players on an exceptional team of literally millions of educators. So we do not stand here alone today. Plus, you guys are sitting, so -- (laughter.)
Last fall my five-year-old son, Aspen -- Aspen, pay attention, you're in the front row, buddy. Anyway, he told his good -- I have to do this all the time; it's just like teaching school -- he told his good friend, Brady, one day at school, he says, "My dad is the Oregon Teacher of the Year, and he gets to meet the President of the United States." And his buddy, Brady, was all excited. He came running out of school that day, and he told his mom. He says, "Mom, Mom, Aspen's dad is Teacher of the Year, and he gets to be the President of the United States." (Laughter.) He's so excited. (Laughter.)
I actually just turned 35 on Sunday, so I am now constitutionally legal to run for office. (Laughter.) President Bush, with all due respect, it's probably a good thing you're not running again this year. (Laughter.) I've got the kindergarten vote wrapped up anyway. (Laughter.) Depending on some of my 7th-graders, what kind of grade they get, they might vote for me, too. We'll see.
But I think this really brings up a notable quality about children that we often overlook as adults. If they're not sure about something, they will give it a shot anyway. They'll just go for it. Children have this tremendous creative capacity and this natural curiosity about the world that I think as adults that we can really learn from, and that we would really do well to foster.
So often in public education, though, we squander this creativity, we squander the entrepreneurial spirit of children because we place such a high value on being right all the time. We need to realize that we, as the United States in the 21st century, have this unique opportunity, a tremendous opportunity to fulfill an emerging niche in the world economy if -- if we educate our children to do more than just do math, reading and writing.
Students need to know that we value more than just being right all the time. We need to really honor their creativity, we need to honor their desire to learn useful skills that are going to be relevant in a 21st century world. These are skills such as innovation and creativity; people skills, like compassion and collaboration; and the ability not just to know the details but to really see how it fits into the big picture.
This is our real challenge, is to educate the entire child -- not just the left side of their brain, but the entire child.
Each of the teachers that sits here today amongst us is here today because of their commitment and their courage to live in light of this fact: Children are fully human beings. Children are fully human beings. They're not conglomerations of hormones, they're not animals to be trained, they're not just numbers to be measured or future commodities to produce. They are our equals. They're the here and the now. And they are beautiful.
Mr. President, on behalf of the seven previous National Teachers -- Michele Forman, Chauncey Veatch, Betsy Rogers, Kathy Mellor, Jason Kamras, Kim Oliver and Andrea Peterson, and their 385 Teacher of the Year colleagues, and for me and my 55 colleagues here today -- thank you for taking the time in each one of your years of your administration to honor America's Teachers of the Year. We really appreciate it. (Applause.)
By doing so, he's honoring not just teachers but he's honoring America's children. And it is the children that really make life beautiful. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 11:40 A.M. EDT