Laura Bush photo

Remarks by the First Lady in a Roundtable Discussion with Brazilian Teachers in Brasilia, Brazil

November 06, 2005

MR. HASMAN: It's so nice of you to be here and to meet with these teachers. They're all excited to listen to you and talk with you.

MRS. BUSH: Great, good. Well, I'm really excited to have the chance to meet with teachers. I like to do that wherever I go, of course, because education is so important to me, as my career, what I've spent my life on; but also because I think it's so important to governments to work really hard to make sure education is excellent for children. And we know that's difficult, but we also know we have to always do it. It isn't like all of a sudden we can say, oh, okay, we took care of that. Educating children is continuous for governments and a really very important role of government, I think, to make sure public schools are available and education is available to every single child in a country.

And we know that one of the ways we can try to alleviate poverty is to make sure children are educated. So thanks; thank you all for coming. I want to hear about you.

MS. HASMAN: I just thought we would talk about the project. These teachers were selected primarily because the U.S. Embassy has an outreach project in which we work with public schools and teacher-trainers to improve the quality of public school education in Brazil. And this is - part of it is also to strengthen the public school system, but also to - these teachers are all English speakers, they're involved in English because English in Brazil is one of the few subjects where you can actually introduce content about the United States. So to improve mutual understanding we have done this.

These are some of our successes in Brasilia, and so I would ask them just to go around and tell a little bit about, very briefly about what they do, so you can get some idea.

MRS. BUSH: That would be great.

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: I'm Isabela Villas-Boas, I work for a binational center here in Brasilia, the Casa Thomas Jefferson. And I'm a pedagogical consultant and I'm responsible for the public school teachers program that has been running for three years now.

MRS. BUSH: Great. Did you study in the U.S.?

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: Yes, I did. I lived in Houston when I was a kid, for three years --

MRS. BUSH: Oh, you did? (Laughter.)

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: -- when my father was getting his Ph.D. And I also got a masters degree from ASU, more recently

MRS. BUSH: Terrific. That's great.

MS. BEZERRA: My name is Gilmara, I've been in teacher training for the last two years; I've been working with a group of 50 teachers here in mainly the rural areas and the surrounding Brasilia.

MRS. BUSH: And what do you do to help them, from the teacher training - what, specifically?

MS. BEZERRA: Well, we have been working with partnership with the American Embassy, so we've got great support on the material and the techniques and the (inaudible) that the teachers still lack because of the area they live, the places they live. So it's quite difficult for them to get training to get materials. So that's the main idea of the course, in partnership with the embassy, to help these teachers and also improve their teaching skills and personal, professional.

MRS. BUSH: And what are they teaching, everything? Are they elementary school or-

MS. BEZERRA: Yes, they teach elementary school, little children and the teenagers - and it's the most difficult groups here to teach.

MRS. BUSH: Teenagers?

MS. BEZERRA: Teenagers. (Laughter.)

MR. PEREIRA: My name is Rog rio - you can call me "Roger," that's okay. I work for the Catholic University here in Brasilia. We started a specialization program under the graduate studies at the University for public school teachers. And the reason for that was because sometimes teachers don't have the time or the money to go for a full masters program. But they do need to improve their skills as teachers, so this specialization is a much shorter version, a much shorter course, so it's a good opportunity for them to get some improvement and then move on to the masters, if that's what they want to do.

MRS. BUSH: So do they come in from the rural areas to go to the program?

MR. PEREIRA: Yes, we get all - teachers from all sorts of backgrounds.

MR. ALVIN: My name is Jose, and I work in a language center here for public schools. Children go there to learn basically three languages: English, French and Spanish. And I work as an assistant to the director of the school, specifically with English. I try to give the teachers and the students some kind of support so that they can, you know, have a good relationship and provide them material - you know, whatever they need.

MRS. BUSH: That's great.

MS. MIRANDA: My name is Elizabeth Miranda. I'm a professor now, I teach literature at a college. So my main interest is teaching culture, I think it's very, very important. And I'm training future English teachers, that's why it's important to me.

MRS. BUSH: By teaching literature, as well?

MS. MIRANDA: Yes, that's it.

MRS. BUSH: So do you teach English - American literature or literature from Great Britain?

MS. MIRANDA: Yes, American literature and British literature, too, yes.

MRS. BUSH: Well, that's terrific.

MS. HASMAN: Okay. I thought we would start - I'll ask them a question and then you can interject whenever you want. I just wanted to let you know that Brazilians have a tendency not to breathe when they talk. (Laughter.)

MRS. BUSH: So if they faint, then we'll know - (laughter.)

MS. HASMAN: So if they faint, yes. What happens is, you'll see two Brazilians talking, both talking at the same time, so feel free to interject, please. (Laughter.) I told them to breathe.

I wanted to ask them about the impact, what the impact they have observed in their programs on pubic schools as a result of the training projects and what's going on. And I thought we would start with Isabella, because she's been at it the longest, at her institution.

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: Well, so far we've trained about a hundred teachers. And if you consider the number of students they have a year, you can say that we have about 20,000 students.

To give just a specific example, we are also doing a mentoring program in which we follow these teachers up to see how they're implanting what they've learned. And two months ago I observed a teacher in a rural school near Brasilia, and her class was fantastic. I would say that in many cases - in some cases better than the classes that some teachers give in our own institute. I hope nobody hears that. (Laughter.) And she used all the techniques with very few resources. And she said that now the students at the school want her to teach all subjects, because of her methodology. They want her to teach Portuguese, math. They say, "If you taught the math, I would learn it, because you teach English so well."

MRS. BUSH: Oh, terrific. That's great.

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: That's a specific example.

MRS. BUSH: : When you train them, what are you using, exactly, to train?

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: Well, we have a one-year program in which we work on the development of their English skills, because they also need that. And also their methodological skills. And in that we also deal with American culture so that they can be better acquainted with American culture and can pass this information on to their students.

MR. PEREIRA: What I feel is the biggest impact is exactly what Isabela was talking about. These teachers, of course, they do lack some theory, you know. And we have to provide them with the theory, but they do need lots of hands-on practice, because they have to teach a class the next morning, so I have to go there and "What do I do with my students?"

So when we do this mixture of theory and practice, you know, then we got very good results and we got the results quickly. You know, they don't have to wait until the end of the course so that they see the results. You're getting immediate results. It's results for the class the next morning. So that's the best part, I think.

MR. ALVIN: I think that another point I should add to what Isabela and Rog rio said is that basically these programs have to offer us very updated information that is going to be highly important for our practice in the classroom in a daily basis. So that's why - well, whenever we join the programs with the American Embassy with, you know, the organization of Melvia, there are lots of teachers who really - who are really willing to participate and, you know, are eager to have more information so that they can try to do their best for their students. And then, you know, try to give their students a chance of working the language in a way that is going to be very important for them.

MS. HASMAN: Does anybody have anything else to say?

MS. BEZERRA: Just - after hearing (inaudible), I do agree with Eugenio when he said that these teachers, they do lack - Rog rio said that as well - they do lack the kind of theory and the methodology. So the main idea of this program that we're doing is provide the teachers with enough information so that they will feel, themselves, that they are prepared to teach and also answer questions that their students might ask them. Because sometimes these teachers, they just go to class with a book and they think that's the book and all they've got to teach. And then we're just allowing them just no -

MS. HASMAN: Okay, maybe you might want to talk about the challenges in Brazil - like in most places in the world, they have large classes, they don't always have materials. So it's very much the same as in most areas in the world.

MRS. BUSH: Including the United States.

MS. HASMAN: Exactly, including the United States. And so what the challenges are that they have found and what techniques or creative strategies they have employed that have helped to make the situation, or to overcome the limited resources that are available. Gilmara, would you like to talk about that?

MS. BEZERRA: For the programs, one of the - right in the beginning of the program, I start with the first class talking about the cultural aspect of the American (inaudible), because most of the times the teachers have an (inaudible) of these things that they have - so it's not going to help in the class. So I start the class with the culture aspect activity, so that this is like, I take a quiz to class. And the most depressive thing, that there are eight questions, so most of the teachers score only three questions, so they don't know a lot of - because they haven't got a lot of information. So how come they are English teachers if they don't even know about the country, you know, about the U.S., about the culture? So this is one of the steps that I take. We do this using the cultural aspects, cultural components in class.

And the biggest challenge we've got with the students there are the large numbers of students. Yes, I've got about 50 in the rural areas, 60 students in one of the main - they are different levels, very different levels.

MRS. BUSH: Is there a shortage of teachers in Brazil?

ALL: Yes, there is.

MR. ALVIN: Yes. My school, for example, because it is a language center that teaches, that we offer three languages, but due to the low salaries we are having a lot of difficulties in finding good professionals who want to be working with us. Because most of the times, the good professionals, of course, because of the low salaries, they go for private schools -

MRS. BUSH: Other jobs? Oh, to a private school. Because at private schools they -

MR. ALVIN: They go to private schools, where they are going to be offered better salaries. But, nevertheless, the teachers that come to us, we try to ensure that we are going to work in a way that is going to feel comfortable enough to be there with us and try to develop a kind of job that is going to be, you know, good for everybody and he or she is going to have fun and good relationships, not only with the other teachers, but with other students, as well.

Now, concerning the difficulties that we may - that we daily face, a way of trying to overcome it is trying to work with materials which are very accessible for us. So in this way we record programs on cable TVs, there are teachers who have cable TVs, and we rent movies and then we show them snippets so that we can fit to a specific topic that we are teaching. And then we just go about these difficulties, trying to show them that there are lots of different accessible material that we can work that can - not only they are going to enjoy, but also is going to be of great help for them to learn the language that they have.

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: To deal with this lack of resources problem, also, this closer tie that we have made with - between our school and the teachers has also allowed us to spot who needs materials and -

MRS. BUSH: To really see something and try to -

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: Yes, and when we phase out a series, for example, we have lots of books that we donate to the right people that we know are going to make good use of them, and we encourage our students who are high middle class students to donate their books after they finish the semester, so that they can be used by other students. And we've also helped public school teachers negotiate cheaper prices with publishers because, you know, we are a large school, we have a close contact with publishers and we use our influence in a way to help them.

MRS. BUSH: That's great.

MR. ALVIN: Well, I can say that my school has already benefited from this. (Laughter.) It's very nice.

MS. HASMAN: Wasn't it your school that received a donation of Microsoft computers?


MS. HASMAN: Microsoft Computers donated to -

MR. ALVIN: And we also received a donation from the American Embassy for computers, as well - four computers, if I'm not wrong, which are - which is helping us a lot, because we just installed some programs that the students like to go working with them and exercising and practicing, which is great.

MRS. BUSH: And that's a good way to individualize your instruction, as well, if you can, because people can have different levels on the computer, for sure.

MR. ALVIN: Yes. Sometimes my students just know a lot more than I do --(laughter) - which is not very uncommon. (Laughter.) I go, "How can you" - they did. (Laughter.)

MS. BEZERRA: Nice of you to help. (Laughter.) And they are there promptly, they know much more than -

MRS. BUSH: I have to get my girls to turn the computer on if I want to use it. (Laughter.)

MS. MIRANDA: Just concerning what Gilmara has said, the culture aspect is very important. And we have very large classes and we have to create motivation, that's the point, to create motivation. And, you know, the culture aspect in this case is extremely important. So it's very difficult sometimes to get students to pay attention to you. But if you, you know, start to, "Oh, would you like to know about the culture? Would you like to know" - it's not only fast food, you know? We have poets, we have authors, we have music. There is a lot more. So you - "Ohhhh, is that about music and poems and everything?" So they pay attention to you, they finally pay attention to you. Oh my God, they pay attention to me, finally.

MR. ALVIN: We are going to give them an idea that it's not only Hollywood. (Laughter.)

MS. HASMAN: Yes, because here I think the only influences they have are the television and movies - Hollywood movies and CNN. (Laughter.) I have found that the scope of knowledge about the United States is extremely limited. I'm constantly asked if I carry a gun. (Laughter.) I'm from the United States and I say, "No, I don't even own one."

MRS. BUSH: Well, you know, we all want to get above stereotypes of each other in any way we can. It really - and our world would be a lot better off if we can realize that we have so much more in common, because we're humans, and we're different because we're Brazilians or Americans. So thank you for what you do to try to get that word across, I really appreciate it. It's really important, especially now in our world, for us to be able to reach out to each other.

And we really do - the United States of America and Brazil really do have a lot in common - a lot in common. So I think that's important for us to both realize, our students, as well as students here in Brazil.

MS. HASMAN: Well, the last one I was going to offer to talk about was the importance of the cultural component -- in fact, we just led into it - in the language instruction and how important and how it does, literature, as well as things about - other than Thanksgiving and Halloween. (Laughter.) So, Rog rio, would you like to start with that one?

MR. PEREIRA: Of course, the culture component is extremely important, otherwise you get that feeling that you're teaching the language just for the language, itself, and that's not it. You use a language to interact with people. You use a language to survive in a society. So since you have this interaction, the cultural component is part of this interaction, so we have to provide our students with all kinds of information about the cultural aspects involved in learning a language. So that's definitely very, very important.

MS. MIRANDA: I think students should be aware that, you know, learning a language is much more than learning a language. You know? You get involved with the culture, too, and this is a very, very important aspect.

MRS. BUSH: Well, I think - of course, I would think, since I'm a librarian - that literature is a very important part of that; that if we read stories about each other we have a chance to understand each other better. And history is also important. I think it's important to know about each other's history and in general, I would say around the world, we' re not that aware of the history of other cultures and I think that's really an important part about learning about each other and certainly about learning the language, because so many words that we learn come out of our background and out of our history. And I think that's important.

MR. PEREIRA: It has a lot to do also, I think, with the models that these teachers had in the past, you know. Because in the past - I mean, learning a language was pretty much learning about the grammar of the language. So now when you go to the classrooms - well, that's how I learned it, so I don't know how to do it in a different way. And then it becomes a challenge and then you can provide these teachers with this cultural component and with skills, with the logical skills, the practical side of it. And then they can see the picture is a lot bigger than just teaching the grammar of the language.

MRS. BUSH: Plus it's just more interesting.

MS. BEZERRA: Right, for sure.

MR. ALVIN: Not only that, but nowadays we have much - a lot of materials available, such as DVDs, newspapers, magazines, cable TV, that enables - that are definitely going to enable our students to, you know, learn the language in a way that is going to be with them for a longer time. I also keep telling my students, "Well, nowadays, when I started English, back in 1976, I barely have magazines or some newspapers available. Nowadays you have Internet, you have DVDs, you have, you know, you name it."

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: And even the textbooks are much better.

MR. ALVIN: Yes. Yes. It's really going to give you a wider idea of what the culture of the people that use it, that use that language, is all about. And this is very important.

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: And I always tell teachers that there is always, for every lesson you teach there is always a cultural component that you can explore. And many times they overlook it because they don't know. They have to know better so that they can explore the materials better, beyond the grammar.

MR. ALVIN: When you insert a new cultural aspect that they weren't aware of, they all become in a total awe. (Laughter.) "Really?" (Laughter.) "It's really like that?" (Laughter.) "My God, I didn't - oh, come on, you are just telling me a lie." (Laughter.) "No, it really works this way."

And it's very important, because it makes our classes funnier - funnier, relaxed, and it is possible to let them learn more in a funnier way, a more extroverted way, which is really important.

MS. BEZERRA: There is something very interesting about this cultural aspect. The first class, I take the books, like America 24/7, the Inaudible of the USA - and it's okay, I'm going to look for information in this book - "Oh, books," - (laughter) - but then when - even the mathematical, got lots of information other than math, and when they go through them it's, "Wow, we had this." So the teachers feel very surprised at that, and have them produce some posters and they have to share some information with the other groups, within working groups. And they find amazing facts - "Wow, it's much more than I ever thought." Now I start my classes, my students know that we haven't got only the fast food or the Hollywood. (Laughter.)

MR. PEREIRA: And they actually welcome the books. (Laughter.)

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: -- how to explore the material. You can't just give them the materials, you have to -

MR ALVIN: And now there is the way they produce materials for them to learn the language, mainly in English. But it's very interesting because they are always researching some aspect of our culture, I mean, of the Brazilian culture, of the cultures around the world.

MS. HASMAN: It's cross-cultural.

MR. ALVIN: Yes, which is very important for them, so that they can recognize themselves in that character that is part of that story in book, or it is quite close to their daily lives. So it is very important for them in this way, as well.

MRS. BUSH: Who produces these English textbooks? Are they published in the U.S.?

MS. HASMAN: Most of them are published in the United States. We have distributors here, so McMillan is here, we have McGraw-Hill, Pearson. These are here. We work very closely with them because I get them to donate books to me free. (Laughter.) And then I have a newsletter and I have a little snippet, like a "U.S. studies quiz" that I have one, you know, vocabulary for Thanksgiving, like "What is a wattle?" (Laughter.) And whoever answers it, they win a book. I give them the book. So we work very well together. And so this is a very promising thing.

MRS. BUSH: Well, publishers like to get their books out; of course, they're pretty generous if you work on them.

MS. HASMAN: They're actually very good. And there's a sense of social responsibility, which is very, very good, and it works here.

We have about five minutes left. Would you like, each of you, to say a little something?

MRS. BUSH: Or add something?

MS. HASMAN: Or ask something of Mrs. Bush?

MRS. BUSH: I'll tell you one thing about, talking about teacher recruitment - because we're also, in the United States, we think going to need about 2 million teachers in the next decade. And because teaching doesn't pay as well as other jobs. For instance, not that many men go into teaching; and we really need men in our schools because so many children are growing up without a dad in their home, so many single-parent families.

But there's a great program started by a young woman, she did it as her senior thesis at Princeton, and it's now been going for longer than 12 years, I think. It's called "Teach for America," and it recruits recent college graduates, as soon as they graduate from college, the ones who have really good grades, the best students to commit to teach just for two years in either a rural school, under-served rural school or inner-city public school. And then at that time, after they teach for two years, a lot of them then go back to law school or go on to graduate school, whatever they were planning to do.

But some of them love teaching, they love working with kids and they stay with it and continue to teach. Or other ones go on to graduate school, but then they end up being really great advocates for public schools because they've worked in public schools and they know how difficult it is and they know how important it is for children to have access to education. So that's been a great program.

And we just - I don't know if you all know, but we just hosted Prince Charles and Camilla at the White House right before we came, and they have taken the same idea, called "Teach for America" and they call it "Teach First," to ask recent college graduates to teach first, before they go on to whatever their other profession is. So I just wanted to tell you that, because it has worked so well in the United States. Lots and lots of young people apply. In fact, many more apply than they can take.

But "Teach for America" does train them. They get training over the summer, and then they have a mentor, like you were talking about, in their school, they have a master teacher who supports them the whole time. Because, of course, they're not really trained in education - they just got a degree in English or math or science or whatever.

MS. VILLAS-BOAS: And beyond the teaching and the love for teaching and the support for public schools, I think whoever is engaged in teaching for two years is trained for life, for any profession. (Laughter.) Because you learn things about management, interpersonal relationships, that you can use in any profession.

MRS. BUSH: That's right, absolutely.

MR. PEREIRA: Because it's not only teaching. It's being a father, a mother, a psychologist, an older person. (Laughter.) Which is very important.

MRS. BUSH: Very important. And it's hard. And I think people see that you - a lot of professional people may think, oh, well, teaching is not that great of a profession. But if you've done it yourself, you see that it's very, very difficult. And most really good teachers are just called to the profession by really wanting to change the lives of children and young people.

MS. BEZERRA: Because when we got these teachers, when we select them, they want to participate we they see that they are so de-motivated, and then we get to this personal and professional growth, because then they identify, "I can do this. I can make it better every other day." So the personal growth is very, very important. And then they become worried about their students, you know, they want to help their school, because they are, "Oh, we need some books for our library, don't you think you can help us with that?" "Oh, well I'd like you to go to my school to visit," so we go, we do the mentoring as we go there and visit with them, attend class as well. So they feel very proud, said, "Wow, she's coming here to attend my class." So I think the personal growth for these teachers, you know, and then as they go along they're loving their occupation as teacher. I think it really helps a lot.

MRS. BUSH: Well, thank you all so much. Thanks for coming out here on a Sunday morning.

ALL: Thank you.

MRS. BUSH: Good luck in all of your schools and with all the teachers you work, and inspire them and help them. I especially like the idea that we can understand each other better because of what you all do, and I appreciate that very much. Thank you all very much for that.

MS. HASMAN: And we thank you.

END 10:48 A.M. (Local)

Laura Bush, Remarks by the First Lady in a Roundtable Discussion with Brazilian Teachers in Brasilia, Brazil Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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