The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 23, 2001

President Bush Recognizes National Teachers of the Year
The Rose Garden

Listen to the President's Remarks

2:50 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. Welcome to the Rose Garden. I was wondering if it was ever going to get warm in Washington. (Laughter.) It does.

Mr. Secretary, thank you, and thanks for your kind introduction and thanks for your service to the children of our country. I don't know if you know this or not, but just last week in Monticello, Mississippi, there was a school named in Rod's honor. It's the school he attended as a young man.

What makes the story interesting is that students of his generation were segregated by race. No more in this great land called America. The Rod Paige Middle School will know loud and clear that education breaks down any barrier to success. Mr. Secretary, you're a role model for students across America, and for a couple of adults, as well.

SECRETARY PAIGE: Well, thank you. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: And I'm proud to have you on my team. (Applause.)


THE PRESIDENT: I'd like to thank the Council of Chief State School Officers, Scholastic, Inc., and the National Selection Committee for organizing this event. You've done a splendid job.

And I want to welcome to the White House, Peter McWalters, President of the Council of Chief State School Officers; and Gordon Ambach, Executive Director. And I also want to welcome and congratulate 56 teachers of the year, from all across America.

You know, I used to say as the Governor of Texas, you can never thank a good teacher enough. Well, I'm going to try to do it as President: thank you all, from the bottom of our hearts. (Applause.)

I especially want to congratulate the finalists, Christa Compton and Tonya Perry, Derek Minakami and Michele Forman, the National Teacher of the Year. I'll have a few things more to say about Michele in a moment.

For a half century, the White House has hosted a ceremony honoring the National Teacher of the Year and the State Teachers of the Year. Every American President, since Harry Truman, has presented this award. And that's as it should be. What we honor tells the world what we value. And we value America's teachers.

"A teacher affects eternity," Henry Adams once wrote. He meant that their influence is unending. Teachers play a vital role in the intellectual and morale education of children. They teach children how to read and write, and they teach children right from wrong. They teach students to love knowledge and to disdain ignorance. Teachers inspire students, fire imaginations, nurture their natural abilities, and encourage them to explore the possibilities of life.

They prepare good students to be good citizens. They also know better than anyone else they can't do it alone. It's so important for the moms and dads of America to hear this message: be a good parent; love your children; teach your children to read early in life, and support the teachers who are spending time with your most precious -- precious part of your family.

One of my predecessors as governor of Texas was a guy named Sam Houston. Sam Houston was a United States senator, the governor of two states, Texas and Tennessee. He was even a President -- the President of the Republic of Texas. And, yet, with all these impressive accomplishments, he wrote that being a teacher in Maryville, Tennessee gave him a higher feeling of dignity and satisfaction than any other office or honor he ever held.

Well, this year's National Teacher of the Year, Michele Forman, demonstrates the dignity and satisfaction of teaching. Mrs. Forman teaches social studies at Middlebury Union High, in Middlebury, Vermont. She says this: I think I have the best job in the world. Every day is something new.

Mrs. Forman arrives at school every day at 6:30 a.m., a full two hours before the students arrive. Three mornings a week she teaches Arabic, which she's been doing for the past four years. Students earn no credit by taking the course. They attend the classes because of their love of learning -- and probably, mostly because of their love of Mrs. Forman.

Michele Forman knows her subjects and has high expectations for her students. She believes there must be a mutual trust between teachers and students. She's highly regarded by her colleagues. She's a woman of boundless energy and enthusiasm. In all these ways, she is an example of excellence in education.

And so it's a high honor to present to Michele Forman the National Teacher of the Year Award. (Applause.)

MRS. FORMAN: Thank you, Mr. President and Mr. Secretary, for recognizing and honoring us today, and through us, the many thousands of fine teachers across the country as we work to provide an excellent education for all of America's children. And thank you for the emphasis that you and your administration place on education.

We join you in the belief that America's young people are our future and our hope. To be a teacher is to forever be an optimist, for every day we are in the presence of the enormous potential that each child holds. We who work with America's children appreciate how vital and how precious this resource is to our nation's well being.

We understand that our classrooms must be places where each child can achieve excellence, and where each child must be supported to the extent necessary to allow this to happen.

I and all of my colleagues gathered here in the Rose Garden today look forward to working with you and your administration to ensure that teachers all across America, in every classroom, in schools large and small, in communities rich and poor, in cities and suburbs and in rural areas can help fulfill the promise of America's youth through excellence in education.

Again, thank you, Mr. President, and Mr. Secretary, for the honor that you bestow on us all today. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Michele, thank you very much. In keeping the fine tradition of never missing to want an opportunity -- (laughter) -- or to waste an opportunity, let me say a few words about a pressing issue and a great opportunity for our country.

This week, the United States Senate will begin debate on what's known as S-1, appropriately named because it is my number one priority, it is your number priority, and it's an education reform proposal. This is not just about another legislative debate. It's the best opportunity in a generation for having meaningful education reform come out of Washington, D.C.

And we have an ambitious goal: all our children, every child in America, must have access to a safe and high quality school. So we make sure that standards are high, it's so important to raise the bar and expect the best from every child, just like you do; that results are tested -- people shouldn't fear accountability systems in America. We want to know. We want to know whether children can read and write and add and subtract. And if not, we'll make sure they do early, before it is too late. And that schools are accountable.

We give more states more flexibility and freedom. We trust teachers in the classrooms, as opposed to having mandates out of Washington. We've got to trust teachers and principals to chart the path for excellence for every child; provide greater options for parents with bipartisan support for charter schools or public school choice or private tutoring programs.

In separate legislation we are working for liability reform to support and protect teachers who enforce reasonable standards of conduct in their classrooms. We're encouraging more of America's best and brightest citizens, including those who have served in the Armed Forces, to become teachers. This is a project near and dear to my wife, Laura's, heart. Unfortunately, she's not here -- I wish she was, because she could explain a lot better than I could.

But she's out traveling the nation, reminding people that one of the most noble professions ever is to be a teacher, and recruiting teachers. And she's doing such a good job, I need to send her up to the Congress to convince them to behave.

We'll increase spending on education and focus that new spending on reforming schools that aren't performing well, or on a powerful reading initiative.

I support historic new levels of education funding. Yet, all of us know better schools require more than just funding. And I hope the Senate hears that we need meaningful education reform by high standards, accountability. My education reform has a good balance of new dollars.

Now, one of the interesting things that historians learn -- and Michele is an historian -- is that the President proposes, the Congress disposes, but the truth of the matter is, the people rule. And I hope the people of America contact the members of the Senate and insist upon a passage of a well-balanced, meaningful reform package that will enhance our teachers' ability to do what you do well, which is to teach our kids.

It's an honor for me to be here. I welcome you to the nation's capital. And once again, thanks from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of all of America, for doing the job you do. God bless. (Applause.)

3:00 P.M. EDT

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