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Occidental College
Los Angeles, California
March 22, 2001

Remarks of Laura Bush to Occidental College

As delivered.

Thank you Michelle.

President Mitchell, Mayor Riordan, distinguished guests, I’m thrilled to be at Occidental College today to discuss an issue that is important to all Americans: the need to recruit the best and the brightest to become teachers.

Thank you for hosting this event, Ted. We share a keen interest in some of the same things, including education and library science...though I have to admit that my involvement with higher education was limited to the role of student.

President Mitchell’s involvement with higher education includes teaching at Dartmouth, serving as Dean of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and now serving as President of Occidental College.

America’s colleges and universities provide responsible leaders and citizens for our democratic society. They share a commitment to the public good...and a goal of excellence, community and service.

The latter two goals — of community and service — are what bring us together today. We’re here to promote the greatest community service of all: teaching.

As you know, teaching is an abiding interest of my own. My love of learning, and of being in the classroom, date back to childhood.

I admired one of my teachers so much that I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Her name was Mrs. Gnagy, and she was my second-grade teacher. Years later I did become a teacher, and those experiences are some of the most important of my life.

America’s future depends on our teachers — teachers with the training, authority, and freedom to challenge their students and change their lives.

While we have many wonderful teachers already at work in our public schools, we need to create more opportunities for men and women to enter the teaching profession. Many talented, well-qualified people have the desire to teach but do not have education degrees. This roadblock is a loss for these skilled individuals and for America’s schools.

That’s why I join Wendy Kopp in urging more people to consider teaching through the Teach For America national teacher corps project.

When Wendy was a senior at Princeton University, she, like so many of us, was troubled by the inequities in America’s educational system. And Wendy, being a woman of action, decided to launch Teach for America. Fortunately, Wendy is very persuasive.

Through her efforts, more than 6,000 outstanding college graduates have taught close to a half million children, and some of these teachers have become leaders in the fight for educational equality for all of America’s children.

I am proud to help Wendy reach her goal of nearly tripling the number of new teachers in the program over the next four years.

I want to encourage America’s best and brightest college students to bring their talents and experience to classrooms, especially in underserved urban and rural public schools, where the need is greatest.

Many of us can look back and remember being influenced by a teacher in a life changing way, like I was by Mrs. Gnagy.

I’ll never forget a story I heard from John Erickson, the award-winning author who writes the "Hank the Cowdog" children’s books. He credits his twelfth grade English teacher, Annie Love, for inspiring his writing abilities.

One of her assignments changed his life. It was to write a poem.

John said, "I'd never written one before, but I found it was easy for me. So instead of writing one poem, I wrote five. She told me that they were beautiful and to write some more.

"By the end of the semester I made a book out of them and gave it to her at the end of the year.

"I guess you could say it was my first book." John kept in touch with his teacher through college, and he often asked her to read his books before they were published. In fact, you will find her name in one of his books, which he dedicated to her.

How profound the profession of teaching is — teachers have a tremendous impact on the lives of children, and therefore, on the future of our country.

To me, there is something almost sacred about teaching. As the historian Henry Brooks Adams said, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Watching a child’s eyes brighten with understanding is an experience that defies description. But it’s something that every teacher can understand.

I ask the college presidents and deans to join me in this important mission of recruiting more teachers.

Teaching is one of the best career choices one can make, and I salute everyone who is willing to take a bold step in that direction.

Thank you.

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