Kimberly Schwartz

I just finished reporting on the winners of this year’s Best Instructor contest, so I’ve recently been reminded about the power and influence of good teachers. For the second year in a row, our overall winner was a high school teacher. So I planned a trip down to Hazleton, Pa., to visit Jeff Sweda, check out his school, and meet his students.

When was the last time you stepped inside a high school? It had been quite a while for me. But when I entered the Hazleton Area Career Center, a lot of high school memories and emotions came back to me.

Even if the fashions and trends are different now, it still felt a bit like déjà vu to walk through the halls crowded with kids and hear the sound of slamming lockers. And I’ll admit, my initial thought was, “Who would ever want to return to this?”

Jeff Sweda, The NEWS’ 2010 Best Instructor.


But when I sat down in Sweda’s classroom, I noticed right away that he seemed to be having a lot of fun. As for me, well, I was trying not to roll my eyes when a couple of kids announced that they had forgotten to bring a pencil or pen to class with them. Again, I internally questioned why anyone would ever willingly choose to teach high school.

Sweda, however, took it all in stride. But he also kept telling me that his first two classes were full of sophomores and juniors, and he wanted to introduce me to his third class - his seniors.

When the seniors showed up after lunch, they were more respectful, more serious, and more focused. I’d forgotten what a difference a couple of years can make at that age. They didn’t need to be told what to do; they got right to work when he dismissed them from lecture and sent them to the shop.

It finally clicked that Sweda, and legions of other high school teachers, have developed an ability to see the potential in their young students. They teach with patience because someday the freshmen will become sophomores, the sophomores will become juniors, and the juniors will become seniors. And by the time those seniors graduate, their teachers have done everything they can to prepare their students to face the real world.

I was impressed by the maturity that the seniors displayed, but I was even more impressed by the teachers who were willing to teach them during those trying years. High school teachers spend five days a week, seven hours a day with teenagers. And these teachers are also committed to actually educating teenagers during those long school days.

Being in a high school again made me think back and remember the teachers who had been patient with me. And it reminded me of how much I owe to a few who really encouraged and nurtured me when I had a hard time seeing my own potential.

It seems that after you’ve reached a certain point of success in your life, it’s easy to forget about the people who helped you along the way. But since it’s November and Thanksgiving is around the corner, it’s certainly a fitting time of year to remember and thank past teachers and mentors.

So consider this my public expression of gratitude for the men and women who endured the younger versions of ourselves. They really did make a difference.

[Editor’s Note: For a glimpse inside the Hazleton Area Career Center, visit to view a video with clips and footage of Jeff Sweda and his students.]

Publication date:11/15/2010