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Our Views: Heads of the class
Hats off to teachers who educate, inspire
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They are the silent warriors of our local schools, our chosen guardians on the front lines of the future.

For six hours or more each weekday, nine months a year, we send them our children and entrust in them the hope that, in a dozen years or so, they will give us back men and women ready to run the world.

They work tirelessly at their cause - and it is a cause, not just a job. Though we pay them better than we used to, it's still a fraction of what many of us make. Yet money is not what motivates them. They care about our kids, almost as much as we do, and about the lifelong process of learning.

When most of our workdays are done and we head home for a night of relaxation, they work on, grading papers and preparing lesson plans. As their spouses and children can attest, they have few days off.

Even during vacations and summer breaks, they are constantly preparing for the semesters to come and improving their own skills through intense classes and seminars, for their own education is never truly complete.

They are our teachers. If you don't have one at home, you probably know one at church or in the neighborhood. They touch our lives beginning in infancy and on beyond our school years. In doing so, they help form the fabric of our community, now and in years to come.

It's popular these days to be critical of our education system as a whole and highlight its failures over its successes. There's no denying that our schools could be better, that test scores and graduation rates, especially here in Georgia, fall below expectations. The blame for such shortcomings can be shared among short-sighted politicians, out-of-touch administrators and parents who aren't as actively involved in their children's learning as they could be.

Yet through all these challenges and amid the growing decibel level of the debate, the teachers trudge on. We tie their hands with predetermined curricula, and they make do. We use mandates as carrots and sticks to judge the schools' every move, and the teachers find a way to make it work.

In one sense, education is a theory, a set of goals and data meant to draw a big picture on where we want our kids to be. Yet in the real world, it is teachers who turn the abstract into the tangible and manage to distill the stratagems of myriad administrators into a child's first book and multiplication tables.

Without our teachers' human touch, education would be a cold vacuum of mere facts. If society ever makes the unwise choice to park our kids in front of a computer screen all day and let them digest information through technology, they will be less able to connect what they learn with the world around them. To do so takes a teacher who can explain the most complex subject matter and tailor it to the individual student's needs.

Just as important, it is the right teacher who inspires children to pursue a lifetime of learning. Everyone has a favorite teacher, or teachers, from elementary school, junior high, high school or college who set us on our eventual career paths with their own wide-eyed excitement for knowledge. The teacher whose passion ignites our own doesn't just fill the mind, but also motivates the heart in ways a book or Web site can't.

For that reason, we honor the top teachers in Gainesville and Hall County in today's edition (see page 1A). Each teacher chosen is a shining example of what's right about our schools and education system. And each one represents dozens more at their respective schools just as dedicated and skilled, and just as adept at sending our kids home full of knowledge and enthusiasm.

They offer a fitting contrast into the varied roles they must play. Gainesville's teacher of the year, Dawn Berry of Centennial Arts Academy, uses Curious George to excite her kindergartners about learning. Hall County's choice, Joel Aquino of West Hall High, brings to his high school science class the real-world experience of a geologist.

We honor them all and their commitment, their hard work, their joyous approach to a thankless, selfless job. Without them, our future would be left in the hands of ill-prepared, uneducated young adults incapable of finishing the work previous generations have begun. With them, there is hope for now and years to come. For in their classes today sit the political, business, creative and community leaders of our common future, each of them waiting for that one spark from a teacher's magic wand to set them on their life's course.

To the teachers of the year, we offer our congratulations and sincere gratitude for their efforts. And to all teachers in our community and beyond, we offer our support and overdue appreciation for the important work they do.