Local celebrities pick top teachers in 'Teachers Count' campaign

James Franco, Steve Young help in 'Teachers Count' effort to boost the profession

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.

Related story:

James Franco: A modern Renaissance man

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Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 29, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Great idea to support great teachers EXCEPT for the notion that celebrities' opinions are worth more than any other citizen's. I am sick of the cult of celebrity.

Like this comment
Posted by qq
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 29, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Can we more importantly identify the non-top teachers and offer them a different line of employment?

Like this comment
Posted by Desperate for Heroes
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 30, 2010 at 11:15 am

An advertising agency promotes actors and football players. What a surprise.
A football player as a hero? Sounds pretty desperate for heroes.
I wouldn't want my children to admire people who use force to win something of no value.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 30, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Hey: Let's just enjoy a nice moment for one of our great teachers.

Like this comment
Posted by P.A. Native
a resident of Mountain View
on Sep 30, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Seriously. Does every article have to be a reason for someone to pontificate about the ills of society?

"I wouldn't want my children to admire people who use force to win something of no value."

In the words of The Dude, "Yeah, well, you know, that's just like uh, your opinion man.".

Like this comment
Posted by Huh
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Cheers to qq and Desperate for Heroes needs to get some of the Obama stimulus money so they can get a life.

Like this comment
Posted by Woohoo
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 30, 2010 at 8:58 pm

My son is very fortunate to have her currently as a teacher. She has them go to T & C to do a restaurant review and other interesting things.

Like this comment
Posted by mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2010 at 10:55 pm

I think it's great that someone is recognizing one our great Paly journalism instructors. I would love to hear more from Esther Wojcicki about how you help young people believe in themselves. I struggle with that as a parent, I'd love to know more from someone who has had a lot of practice and is successful at it.

The Paly journalism program turns out kids who are already writing like professionals in high school. How about some night classes for the rest of us??

Like this comment
Posted by Adjust statures
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 1, 2010 at 9:43 am

She's tall and he's short. They should have just had her sit down and him stand up. It looks distorted. Is she even really touching him or was it a computer trick?

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