A teacher at San Francisco’s Abraham Lincoln High School has been named one of five California Teachers of the Year, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced today.

Valerie Ziegler teaches U.S. history, economics, government and politics to 11th and 12th graders at the Sunset District school.

O’Connell noted in a statement today that teachers in California and elsewhere have in the past year faced severe cutbacks in funding and programs, as well as layoffs.

“It is more important than ever to honor people who chose to become teachers and to celebrate this most noble of professions,” O’Connell said.

Ziegler said today that O’Connell called her on Monday to inform her of the award.
“It’s a real honor,” the 34-year-old Ziegler said. “I’ve only been teaching for five years … it’s a little overwhelming.”

Ziegler credited programs at the school that allow her to work closely with other teachers and her students, including academies designed for at-risk students who are interested in environmental and teaching careers.

While funding for schools remains the most significant issue, Ziegler said those types of programs represent budget-neutral solutions to better education.

She said it is vital for teachers to be able to have the time to meet one-on-one with students and hear what they want from their education.

“I think choice is really important to students,” she said.

The California Teachers of the Year program was created in 1972 to publicly recognize excellence in teaching. This year’s honorees will be celebrated at an award dinner in Sacramento on Jan. 25.

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