Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching

October 19, 1983

Class be seated. [Laughter]

Well, it's wonderful to have all of you here today at the White House. We want you to enjoy our little get-together today. So, please lean back, relax, and stop worrying about what the students are doing to the substitute teachers back home. [Laughter]

Creativity in education: I heard the other day about a young teacher in a first grade class was having a problem informing them -- they'd never had anything to do with some of the studies they would get later -- informing them where their heart was and how they should put their hands over their heart when the National Anthem was played. And he finally figured it out. He said, ``Put your hands on the alligator.'' [Laughter]

But, you know, the goal of these visits is to put education, the profession to which all of you have dedicated your lives, where it belongs on the national agenda, which is front and center.

Now, don't get me wrong. I've never been for politicizing this issue. In fact, it was just that tendency that I believe set us off on the wrong track a few decades ago. Too often the political side of education has been emphasized -- money, regulations, bureaucracy, government intrusion, in fact, just about everything about our schools, except the two most important elements: the students, of course, and especially you, the teachers.

It's been very evident today that the American people are realizing again how important our schools are and how vital and honorable the role of the teacher is in our communities. This is especially so in the area of science and mathematics, fascinating in and of themselves as intellectual disciplines, but also vital to the success of the individual and our nation in this new era of technology.

The educational standards are going up everywhere and nowhere more sharply than in math and science. Yet with all the demands for educational reform, we mustn't forget the most important goal of all: to attract the most competent and dedicated people to teach and then to hang on to them.

In preparing for this ceremony today, we did a little calculation and discovered, using conservative estimates, of course -- [laughter] -- that each of you teachers is likely to interact with more than 5,000 students in the course of your careers. So, when I look out on this group, I not only see you master teachers, but I also see a half a million students who will have the privilege of being challenged, stimulated, and guided by you.

Is it any wonder that we place so much importance on what you do? And is it any wonder that we wanted you here today to say what sometimes just never gets said enough over the years, the simple words ``Thank you''? Thank you for a job well and unselfishly done. The dedication of your lives to your students has earned the thanks of all Americans, and I take great pleasure today in expressing that gratitude for so many of them.

And at this point, I want to acknowledge the really tireless efforts of those professional organizations, especially the National Science Teachers Association and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which shared their expertise and judgment with us in this round of Presidential awards.

Now, I'm sure that no one has to explain to teachers the difficulty of getting everything done in a limited period of time. My regret is that I won't have time to meet all of you individually. But with your understanding, I'd like to just call a few of you up here as representatives of all the dedicated teachers that we're honoring here today. So, will Edna Corbett, Jo Anne Rife, Tony Sedgwick, and Akehiko Takahashi, please, come up here and join me for a minute or two of embarrassment. [Laughter]

Edna Corbett has been an award-winning biology teacher in Portsmouth, Virginia, for nearly 20 years. I've asked her up here because she so clearly demonstrates a trait that seems so common among you successful teachers. She's just incredibly busy. In fact, I'm little surprised that you were able to squeeze in this event today. [Laughter] And like many of you, Mrs. Corbett is not only on the run with her school activities, like afterschool student groups, science fairs, and the inevitable faculty committees; she is fully immersed in family, professional, church, and community activities as well. I'm sure that one of the lessons she conveys to her students is how to use their time effectively.

Jo Anne Rife from Harrison, Arkansas, has taught basic science to thousands of students in smalltown school districts throughout the State. And she's done something I find reassuring. After leaving the classroom a few years ago to apply her experience as a science coordinator for a large school district, she returned, reinvigorated, to the classroom to continue serving on the frontline. Mrs. Rife has had her share of success in sending students on to careers in technical fields, including careers as science teachers. But she takes equal delight in opening the world of science to all of her students no matter what their interests are.

Tony Sedgwick from Tacoma, Washington, recognizes that mathematics is a tool that everyone needs. And he spreads his efforts generously to try to reach all kinds of students. He's as likely to be teaching ``I hate math'' students -- [laughter] -- at the advanced level, and his efforts have paid off. Ten years ago when he took over his high school math department, it enrolled only 21 percent out of 1,800 students and only 12 percent of its minority students. Today he has tripled those numbers.

And finally, Akehiko Takahashi is an immigrant to America and a very welcome one. He began his education in his native Japan, but finished it in Missouri, where he's been a math teacher for the past 20 years. Like Mr. Sedgwick, he teaches all levels of math, and I understand he's fiercely demanding of all his students. The students at Wentzville High know that when you get an ``A'' from Mr. Takahashi, you've earned an ``A''. Those high standards have rubbed off on his students. His math team in particular has had outstanding success and produced several superstar ``mathletes.'' [Laughter]

Now, these four good sports -- [laughter] -- embody those important qualities that we found in all of you: your dedication to your profession, your breadth of experience and interests, your thorough preparation and continuing education in the subjects you teach, your insistence on hard work by your students, and your recognition that math and science are important for everyone and that everyone can be taught. So, let me at least -- I'm going to shake these four hands as representative of the skills and dedications of all of you. So, just mentally figure that your hands are being shaken also. [Laughter]

Now that we've all shaken hands -- [laughter] -- in addition to your experiences in Washington, you, as teachers, will also have two souvenirs from your trip. One is the $5,000 grant that each of your schools will receive from the National Science Foundation for you to use in your math and science instructional programs. I know that money will be used well. The other is a handsome certificate which will be handed out by the impressive trio that are here with me -- my science adviser, Jay Keyworth; Secretary of Education Ted Bell; and the Director of the National Science Foundation, Ed Knapp.

All of us remember the teacher or teachers who gave us that one extra push, that one extra bit of help just when we needed it most -- the people who profoundly influenced and changed our lives. All of you here today are those selfless and dedicated professionals. So, for all your students, past and present, and students to come, for all the mothers and fathers of America, can I extend to you a heartfelt thanks, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 10:01 a.m. in the East Room at the White House.