President Bush Welcomes 2008 National and State Teachers of the Year to the White House
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.