THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||April 24, 1998|
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
IN HONORING THE NATIONAL TEACHER OF THE YEAR
The Rose Garden
3:22 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, I was sitting herelistening to Secretary Riley and Senator Robb, thinking about howvery long we've been working together, principally on education --more than 15 years, the three of us. And I've noticed a few changes.For one thing, I was looking at Chuck's remarks, and as the years goby, the print on our notes gets bigger. (Laughter.)
But I must say, their fidelity to the cause has neverwavered. I continue to be astonished by Dick Riley's energy andpassion and devotion to education. We couldn't have a betterchampion as Secretary of Education. (Applause.) And I am verygrateful for a man with Senator Robb's raw courage, to have him inthe Senate and on the side of our children.
I'd also like to thank Congressman Tom Davis andCongressman Tom Petri for being here to honor their respectiveTeachers of the Year. Congressman Davis swears that he went tojunior high school with our honoree's wife, who is also a teacher.But the age disparity appears to be too great for that to be true.(Laughter.)
I'd also like to welcome Gordon Ambach, the ExecutiveDirector of the Council of Chief State School Officers; Mary BethBlegen, the 1997 Teacher of the Year; and say a special word ofappreciation to all the other Teachers of the Year who are here fromall the states and the territories.
You know, this is the Rose Garden, and from these stepswe have, at various times, paid tribute to our bravest soldiers, ourpioneering astronauts, our greatest athletes. Americans who, inoffering up their personal best made our spirits soar, and sometimeschanged the course of history, and in so doing, earned the title of"hero." But nothing could be more fitting than to celebrate the menand women whose great deeds are too often unsung, but who, inoffering up their personal best every day, help to create those otherheroes. For every soldier, every astronaut, every scientist, everyathlete, every artist can thank in no small measure a teacher, ormore than one, for what he or she ultimately was able to become.
In that sense, we celebrate heroes here today who buildup our children and America's future. We're especially glad to honorthis year's National Teacher of the Year, Mr. Philip Bigler, but allthe other teachers, too. I'm sure he would be the first to say --and I'm sure all of you would be the first to say -- that you reallystand here in the shoes of tens of thousands of others who every daydo their best to lift our children up.
Your tools have changed over the years -- textbooks havebeen updated, slates have given way to computers. But the mostimportant tools -- the heart and soul and compassion -- are still the
same. The passion for opening young minds to knowledge; theunshakable faith in the potential and possibility of every child; thecommitment every now and then to stay after class to help astruggling student; the vigilance to answer every child's discouraged"I can't" with a determined "Yes, you can."
Our national honoree, Philip Bigler, brings all thesegifts to his history classes at, appropriately, Thomas Jefferson HighSchool for Science and Technology in Virginia. For more than 20years, his students haven't just studied history, they have lived it.He's transformed his classroom into a virtual time machine,challenging students to debating each other as members of rivalancient Greek city states; as lawyers before the Supreme Court; aspresidential candidates named Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
Through these historic simulations, his students havelearned lessons about democracy and the meaning of citizenship,lessons that will last a lifetime -- lessons we want every Americanto know.
We need more teachers like Philip Bigler and all ourother honorees in every classroom in America today. For it is theywho can make our schools the best in the world. It is they who canguarantee that America will have another American Century in the 21stcentury.
Of course, we have to help them, and here in Washington,as Senator Robb said, we're doing our best to push an agenda foreducational excellence for all. Secretary Riley has labored for itevery day since we've been here, to empower teachers and students andprincipals and parents, through national standards andaccountability; through smaller classes and better classrooms andmore hookups to the Internet; through more master teachers and morecharter schools.
For four years and more, the Congress and the Presidentworked together in bipartisan fashion toward higher standards,greater accountability and more opportunity. Indeed, in just theBalanced Budget Act last year, we had the biggest increase investmentin public education in 35 years, and the biggest expansion ofopportunity for our children to go on to college since the G.I. Bill50 years ago.
As Senator Robb said, this week Congress did a littleabout-face. The Senate voted against the school construction programto modernize our schools, against national standards, againstreducing class sizes in the early grades. It voted to weaken themovement to charter schools and our efforts to hook all ourclassrooms and libraries up to the Internet by the year 2000.
Instead, they voted for a very small, as Senator Robbsaid, tax incentive proposal that allegedly will help parents meetelementary and secondary school expenses. But the truth is, thisbill, though it costs $1.6 billion, which is a lot of money infederal assistance to education, would offer an average of $7 in taxrelief for parents of the 90 percent of our children who are inpublic schools, and just $37 in tax relief on average for those withchildren in private schools. Upper income families would get adisproportionate share of the money. Families struggling to makeends meet wouldn't get one red cent. Public education would beweakened by siphoning limited federal resources away.
Now, we can do better than that. And I'd like to askthe teachers to help me prepare the right lesson plan to ensure thatwe do.
Earlier this month, a House committee took in some waysan even more shocking step in our effort to reward outstandingteachers all across America by actually eliminating funding for theimportant work of the National Board for Professional TeachingStandards, which certifies the master teachers -- something that oneof our colleagues, Governor Jim Hunt from North Carolina, has devoteda major part of the last 10 years to working for.
By defining the standards of excellence in teaching, theNational Board helps to focus and upgrade teacher training, recognizeoutstanding teachers, keep our best teachers in the classroom, andhelp them help other teachers. National Board certification helpsour teachers test themselves against the toughest standards. Ibelieve it would be a terrible mistake to end national support forthe work of the board, and I'm going to work with Congress to makesure that this provision never reaches my desk.
Every school in America ought to have at least one boardof certified teacher who can inspire and help all his or hercolleagues. Now is no time to walk away from our commitment topublic education or to reject our common obligation to help ourchildren -- and to help you help our children. It's no time forCongress to set a poor example for students by ignoring the evidence,the lessons that are plainly there from all the educational researchthat has been done in the last 15 years, since the issuance of theNation at Risk report; from all the anecdotal evidence they couldpick up by talking to any one of you who have been honored by yourfellow teachers and your states.
This should not be a partisan issue, it should not be anideological issue. It ought to be, purely and simply, what can we doto help you do what is best for our children and their future.
The most encouraging thing I can say about looking atall of you is, while we go on and debate all this, you're going backto your classes, back to our kids, and because of you they're goingto do just fine while we argue about often the wrong things.(Laughter.) And I think that should be deeply encouraging to theAmerican people. (Applause.)
Now, I close with these words, so that we can give ourhonoree the last word: The great Daniel Webster once said, "If wework upon marble, it will perish. If we work upon brass, time willefface it. If we rear temples, they will crumble into dust. But ifwe work upon immortal minds, we engrave on those tablets somethingthat will brighten to all eternity."
Thank you, Philip Bigler, for brightening those minds toall eternity. (Applause.)
MR. BIGLER: Thank you. Mr. President, Secretary Riley,Senator Robb, Congressman Davis, distinguished guests: Today, webring you the good news in public education. Teachers representingall the states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, theMariannas Islands and the Department of Defense are here today.They, in turn, represent the thousands of other dedicated andtalented professional educators who at this very moment are workingthe daily miracles in our nation's classrooms. They are ourcountry's unsung heroes, committed to teaching every child regardlessof income, race, ethnicity, mental or physical impairment or anyother preexisting condition. We take pride in our vocation and wejoin in this celebration of teaching professional excellence.
We also honor our students. And, Mr. President, todayI'm very honored to have four students from Thomas Jefferson HighSchool for Science and Technology here. I would like to introduce toyou, Mr. President, representing Thomas Jefferson, their humanitiesclasses in Fairfax County Public Schools: Sandi Lin -- Sandy, wouldyou please stand. I would also like to introduce to you Leon Scott.Leon, would you wave since you're standing already? Katelyn Shearer,who is standing next to him. And Emily Spengler, who is over here aswell. (Applause.)
Mr. President, also here is one of my other formerstudents from McLean High School, Amanda Neville. Amanda, would youplease stand? Mandy is a senior now -- (applause) -- at your almamater, Georgetown University, and she's preparing to go on tograduate school this fall. And I'm very proud of these young people.Thank you for coming.
When I began my teaching career some 23 years ago atOakton High School, I never dreamed that one day I would be invitedto the White House and to be recognized by the President of theUnited States for my work as a classroom teacher. But my mother andfather could, because they, like all parents, wanted the best fortheir children and they had the highest aspiration for us. Theparents and teachers of this nation represent a powerful coalitionfor quality public schools, and we, working together, can assureeducational excellence.
My former principal in McLean High School who is alsopresent today, Elizabeth Lodal -- Elizabeth, please stand --(applause) -- once imparted these words of wisdom to me. "To be ateacher," she said, "is to be forever an optimist." Each day, weteachers are privileged to glimpse the future, and I believe that ourAmerican Golden Age is still before us, and it will be a time whenlearning is cherished and scholars are revered.
Thank you, Mr. President, for inviting us here today andfor all you're doing to support our public schools. Thank you.(Applause.)
Okay, Mr. President, I'd like to introduce you to myfamily. This is my wife, Linda. Stand up, Linda. (Applause.) Thisis my father, Charles E. Bigler. (Applause.) This is his wife, Bea.(Applause.)
Mr. President, my mother, Berniece Bigler died nineyears ago, and I know she'd be very proud. She's buried at ArlingtonNational Cemetery, and she is still one of my heroes.
I also have my brother, who is a doctor from Seattle.This is Dr. Robert Bigler. (Applause.) And his wife, Regina, ishere as well.
We'd also like to have all the family members of all theteachers of the year from all of our states to stand, please, to berecognized for all that you do for us, too. (Applause.)
And we also have one other person, Mr. President.That's Sheri Maeda. Sheri, would you please stand? Sherry is myteammate and my humanities partner at Thomas Jefferson High School, aremarkable teacher as well. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I think we're supposed to say, classdismissed. Thank you. (Laughter and applause.)