Asked to pick a favorite teacher, actor James Franco chose Esther Wojcicki, his journalism teacher at Palo Alto High School.
In a standing pose with her hands on his shoulders, Franco and Wojcicki are among the celebrities and their teachers featured in a nationwide social-marketing campaign aimed at lifting the status of the teaching profession.
Teachers Count, the New York-based nonprofit behind the campaign, printed 50,000 posters of the pair, along with hundreds of thousands of posters and calendars featuring other celebrities with their favorite teachers.
"Teachers are the single most important factor in the effort to improve U.S. education, but their vital role is often overlooked," the organization said. "In fact, teachers often feel like they are the scapegoat for the problems facing education."
Wojcicki recalled Franco, a 1996 Paly grad, as "a very creative and very smart but somewhat shy young man" who resembled James Dean.
Franco said he admired Wojcicki for treating her journalism students like true professionals.
"She showed me that I could take my dreams as seriously as I wanted," recalled the award-winning actor, director and screenwriter who had leading roles in "Milk," "Pineapple Express" and "Spider-Man."
Wojcicki said the "No. 1 tenet" of her teaching philosophy is her belief that every student wants to be successful.
"He or she just needs help reaching that goal, and that is where I come in as the teacher," she told the Teachers Count campaign.
"Some students are afraid they cannot succeed because they have a history of failure, but if the teacher believes in them, they will believe in themselves.
"I feel it is very important to treat students with respect and trust."
A Paly staff member for 26 years, Wojcicki has helped grow the school's journalism program to be the largest in the country, involving nearly 400 students.
"The best part of being a teacher is being able to share a small part of students' lives for a short time, helping them to realize their dreams, and knowing that I played a small role in their success," she said.
Also part of the Teachers Count campaign is Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young of Palo Alto and his English teacher, Charles Reich.
"Steve was usually quiet during the first half of class, absorbing the commentary," Reich recalled.
"Then, as if he were surveying an NFL defense before taking the snap from center, he would synthesize the ideas and take the discussion to a higher level of discovery."
The dozens of celebrities posing with teachers for the campaign include Emmy Award-winning Sopranos actress Edie Falco, Golden Globe winnter America Ferrera, Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson and Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award-winner Vanessa Williams.
The ongoing Teachers Count campaign, kicked off in 2006 by then-First Lady Laura Bush, was created by Allen Kay of the advertising agency Korey Kay & Partners. Time Inc. donated millions of dollars worth of free ad space.