Class Acts: A Q&A with Julie Swift

Lisa Eberle and her daughter, Ranessa Robinson, nominated Julie Swift for Class Acts. Eberle and Robinson said Swift demonstrated a genuine interest in meeting Robinson's needs from the beginning. Robinson, who graduated in 2007, would like Swift to be recognized for her professionalism, dedication and leadership skills. Swift's positive influence and attitude toward education made her more than a high school teacher. She is a friend, mentor and inspiration.

Name: Julie Swift

Age: 33

City of residence: Salida

Occupation: Teacher, Valley Charter High School

Family: Husband, Brian; daughter Shyanne, 3; son Wyatt, 2 months

Background: Grew up in Modesto and graduated from Downey High, Class of 1992; attended Modesto Junior College for seven years; transferred to California State University, Stanislaus, in the fall of 1999 to become a teacher. Found her job as a secretary unfulfilling and knew she wanted to teach; received Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from Fresno State.

Teaching experience: Hired by Valley Charter High School in 2002; first teaching job. Taught as a substitute for two years before that. Also taught summer school for five years in the Ceres Unified School District.

Why did you get into teaching? I had a few great teachers growing up. They showed me they cared, probably without realizing it, and I always wanted to impact the lives of young people in the same positive and kind way. I also wanted to set a good example with my return to college at 25; many people give up, but I get to tell them how I did it and how not giving up made me, and can make them, stronger.

What is your favorite thing about being a teacher? By far, my relationship and connection with my students. When I see that they want to learn, because I gave them a little extra push and attention, it is highly gratifying. Also, when my former students visit me and let me know how they are doing, it feels good.

What is the most challenging part of your job? When a student is uninterested in school, and I am unable to convince them that learning is exciting and education is key in life.

Favorite teaching tool or activity in the classroom: Teaching students to write effective letters. I love to teach literacy and how letter-writing skills are a symbol of who they are and their level of education. A letter is an expression of feelings and has so much more power than what they think it has.

What's next in your classroom? I am returning from maternity leave and need to re-establish my relationships and get back on track.

Advice for new teachers: It takes a good five years to start feeling comfortable in the classroom. Don't give up.

Advice for students: Appreciate a good education and always believe you can succeed in school. If someone makes you feel you can't do it, prove them wrong. I never thought I could make it through college, but I did.

Advice for parents: Understand what your student needs and the pressures they endure in society today. Encourage a love for education.