BENTONVILLE, Ark. – First lady Laura Bush (search) promoted teaching as a profession Tuesday by recalling 20 sets of young eyes staring up at her on her first day on the job, when she learned a difficult lesson herself: don't rush through the lesson plan.
"There are few professions where you can see the impact of your work so vividly, and there aren't many jobs where hero and best friend are part of the job description," Mrs. Bush told students at Bentonville High School. "There are few careers that have such a big impact on an entire generation and an entire nation."
Mrs. Bush told of her first day as a teacher in neighboring Texas, shortly after she received her teaching degree decades ago.
"At 9 o'clock, we started to work," she said. "We recited the alphabet and numbers. We colored and put together puzzles. We read a few books, and then a few more, and by 9:15 a.m., I had gone through my entire day's lesson plan."
At Bentonville High, Mrs. Bush visited with students, dropped in David Chapman's American history class and spoke in an auditorium to help launch "TeachArkansas," (search) a state-sponsored program to recruit teachers. The program is reaching out to bring education graduates, retired teachers, people wanting second careers and others into classrooms across Arkansas.
The first lady said the need for teaching talent is not Arkansas' alone. "We'll need more than 2 million new teachers in America's classrooms in the next decade," she said.
Bentonville, a fast-growing city in northwest Arkansas, was Mrs. Bush's first stop on a three-day trip of education and campaign fund-raising events in California and Nevada as well as Arkansas.
Mrs. Bush urged school districts and state legislators to recognize teaching as a profession that deserves good pay and keep education in the forefront of their budgets.
"I understand that a lot of states have budget problems. Money is tight," she said. "But I also know how crucial really good teachers are to the whole future of our country."
If she wanted a section of Arkansas to visit a school and raise campaign money for Bush-Cheney '04, she couldn't have picked a better spot than Benton County, a Republican stronghold in extreme northwestern Arkansas.
Her motorcade passed through an area where ramshackle trailers and old-fashioned service stations mix with new houses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hardly a backwater town, Bentonville is within one of the wealthiest and fastest-growing parts of the state.
The University of Arkansas says Bentonville and Benton County will surpass Little Rock's Pulaski County in population by 2025. Bentonville is home to Wal-Mart's national headquarters; Tyson Foods (search), among the largest chicken and meat processors; and other business.
Mrs. Bush hosted a fund-raising lunch that raised $150,000 at a country club in nearby Rogers, Ark., then headed to Westward to attend an evening fund-raiser in Newport Beach, Calif. She has raised more than $5 million for her husband's campaign.