Remarks by First Lady Laura Bush at the "Preserve America History Teacher of the Year" Award Ceremony
New York Historical Society
New York, New York
Oct. 19, 2004
Thank you all very much. Thank you, Dr. Basker, for your kind words and for your work with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Special thanks also to the founders of the Institute, Richard Gilder and Lewis Lehrman for your leadership.
Today wouldn't be possible without you or the board members of Preserve America. Sabrina, you did a wonderful job delivering the Pledge and, Camellia, your singing of our National Anthem was magnificent. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
I'm happy to be here today in one of my favorite cities and to see my good friend and your first lady, Libby Pataki. Libby, thanks so much for being here. (Applause.)
And certainly, there's no better place to learn about history than right here at the New York Historical Society. Thanks to Dr. Louise Mirrer and to Nancy Newcomb, and to the Board of Trustees for your great work. And thanks also to Bernadette Castro, Commissioner of New York's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation. Thank you all for joining us. (Applause.)
Today, we gather in a place that brings history to life to honor a teacher who does the very same thing. I'm so happy to honor a gifted teacher and an incredible woman. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in congratulating the 2004and firstPreserve America History Teacher of the Year, Ms. Kathleen Kean. (Applause.)
This special honor is in recognition of Kathy's creativity, enthusiasm, and dedication to teaching children their history. As a teacher for nearly 30 years, Kathy has spent the last 25 years teaching at Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wisconsin. Kathy was selected out of more than 54 finalists, who are all exceptional teachers in their own right.All teachers deserve to be recognized for the contributions they make to our classrooms and to our country. Teaching is the absolute professionthe one that makes all the others possible. I know how rewarding and how challenging teaching can be, and what a remarkable difference a teacher can make in the life of a student.
Like Kathy, when I was a little girl, I made the very mature decision to become a teacher. My mother said she knew I'd become a teacher when she heard me scolding my dolls for not paying attention. (Laughter.) But I wanted to teach because I loved school and I loved my second grade teacher, Ms. Gnagy. She was my favorite teacher and I wanted to be just like her.
Certainly, one of my most memorable days was my very first day teaching. I had everything ready in the classroom: The chairs were perfectly positioned, the pencils were sharpened. Then the children walked in. Or should I say, some walked, some ran, and some were pulled in by their parents. (Laughter.) I'd earned a teaching degree but no textbook could have prepared me for the 20 sets of eyes staring at me with total expectation.
At 9 a.m., we started to work. We recited the alphabet and numbers. We colored and put together puzzles. We read a few booksand then a few more. And by 9:15, I had gone through my entire day's lesson plans. (Laughter.)
Even if they can't always fill an entire day with lesson plans, teachers fill children's lives with hope and love. And this is what Kathy does every dayand as the Preserve America History Teacher of the Year, she does it exceptionally well.
Kathy is a great history teacher for so many reasons, and not just because she named her daughter Abigail Adamsafter Abigail Adams. And Abigail, by the way, is also inspired by her momshe's a high school history teacher, and Abigail is here with us today, and her brother, Liam, as well.Kathy is an incredible teacher because she's passionate about what she teaches. And from the classroom to her community, Kathy shares her lifelong love of history with her students, her colleagues and her neighbors.
Her students can attest that her love of history is infectious. In fact, according to Marty and Jenny who are here with us today, at 7:20 in the morning, not even coffee can wake them up like Ms. Kean. (Laughter.)
Jenny likes it that Ms. Kean relies on more than textbooks to capture her students' imaginations. Through fieldtrips and group research projects, students don't just learn history, they experience it.
Rather than simply read about the 1920s, Ms. Kean brought in a record player and she taught her class to dance the Charleston. Her students weren't sure which was more historicthe dance or the record player. (Laughter.)
Rather than learn about the Civil War through documentaries, students read letters written by Kathy's great-great grandfather, who served in an all-Irish regiment in the Northern army. Instead of imagining what life is like for immigrants, students interview and chronicle journeys of new immigrants to America.
As a former librarian myself and a lover of books, I'm especially pleased that Kathy helped develop an American History-American Literature course. Students read classic literature and, as they do, they learn about the time period in which the books portray. They gain a stronger understanding of the characters, of the genres and the authors.
And rather than learn about historical architecture from a slide show, Kathy leads her students on walking tours through historic communities in Milwaukee. Many of the landmarks they visit, Kathy helped to save through a historic preservation program she started nearly 30 years ago. Today, Historic Milwaukee, Inc., continues to foster a greater appreciation of the city's history and architecture.The success of Kathy's creative approach to teaching is reflected in her students' test scores and in their love of learning. Several of her students have gone on to become historians. And they all leave her class with the sense that the study of history is more than a required course, but it's an extension of life, an essential part of the human experience.
Kathy says, "It's important that students learn about the courage and the perseverance of other generations. We can take comfort in knowing that other people have met challenges and that we can have the encouragement then to do the same."
Kathy, thank you for all that you do to enrich our children's lives and to share the story of America.
An understanding and an appreciation of the past makes every American a more engaged citizen. Our founders believed that the study of history should be at the core of every American's education. Thomas Jefferson said, "The people are the ultimate guardians of their own liberty. History, by apprising them of the past, will enable them to judge the future."
President Bush and I want all children to learn about our nation's history and to enjoy our national treasures. Preserve America supports partnerships that preserve our nation's heritage from monuments to natural landscapes to main streets.
And today, thanks to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, we celebrate a great educational component of Preserve America, which is honoring outstanding history teachers like Kathy Kean.
Great institutes of learning like the New York Historical Society are also helping young people learn about our past. Just a minute ago, I toured the Alexander Hamilton Exhibit. If you haven't had a chance to see it, I hope you'll see some of these remarkable artifacts and paintings and I strongly encourage you to take the tour.The country we live in today is very much the nation that Hamilton envisioned and helped to shape. Through exhibits like this and through the creativity of great teachers like Kathy Kean, our young people will learn that history is not a time apart but very much a vital part of who we are now.
Poet William Wordsworth once wrote, "What we have loved, others will love, and we will teach them how." We love our country, and we want to teach our children about the ideals, the events, and the courageous men and women who shaped our nation. When we do, they can carry America's ideals and our history on into the future.
Thanks again to Kathy Kean for sharing your love of history with so many. And thanks to every teacher across America for making a difference in the lives of children.
Now I want to introduce two of Ms. Kean's former students, Marty and Jenny, and they're going to introduce our Preserve America History Teacher of the Year, and their favorite teacher. Thanks to all of you. (Applause.)Posted October 22, 2004