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Thank a teacher
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Over the last five years, I have visited more than 500 schools, including at least one in every Georgia school district. I've discovered that each of our schools is unique and has its own character and its own challenges.
But there is one thing that every great school in Georgia has in common: Great teachers!
May 4-10 was Teacher Appreciation Week, a time that we set aside each year to say an extra special "thank you" to our educators and reflect on the power they have in our lives.
Ask any successful person you know and they can name at least one teacher who had a huge impact on them and influenced the direction their life took. Whether it is a corporate CEO, a political figure or a community leader, there's a good chance they will name a teacher as one of their personal role models.
The week was also a time for us to reflect on the future of teaching.
The truth is that Georgia -- like much of the nation -- has a serious teacher shortage, especially in some of our most critical areas, like science, mathematics and special education. A few statistics to consider:
- About one-third of our new teachers leave the profession in the first five years.
- About one quarter of Georgia's teaching workforce has more than 20 years experience, meaning they are rapidly approaching retirement.
- While demand for mathematics and science teachers continues to rise, not enough of Georgia's college students are going into these fields of education. For instance, by 2012, we will need well over 1,000 new science teachers. Yet, in 2007, only 96 graduated from the University System of Georgia.
The good news is that the groups who prepare, certify, train and employ teachers are all sitting at the table together to solve this problem. We are talking about beefing up our teacher preparation programs and looking at alternative ways to bring teachers into the classroom. We are collaborating to give our teachers the best professional development possible. And we are working on new evaluations that will give teachers the feedback they need to become even better.
We are also exploring new, innovative ideas for recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. For instance, we are developing new induction programs that would give teachers on-going support and training during those all-important first years of teachers.
But we need your help.
If you are a student or someone who is contemplating a career change, consider becoming a teacher in Georgia. It is one of the most rewarding, fulfilling professions in the world. If becoming a teacher isn't for you, consider volunteering at your neighborhood school or offering your assistance to a teacher you know.
And don't wait until next year's appreciation week to thank a teacher. Send your child's teacher a card or an e-mail to express your appreciation; or find the address of a teacher that had a big impact on your life and just send them a quick note of thanks.
A small gift or token of appreciation is nice, too. But for a teacher, there is no greater reward than hearing from a student or a parent that you made a difference in someone's life.
To all of Georgia's teachers, thank you for everything you are doing for our students. We appreciate you!

Cox, a parent and a veteran classroom teacher, is Georgia's superintendent of schools.
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