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During Gabay's year of recognition, she will serve as a spokesperson for the teaching profession and help focus the nation's attention on the education of its children.

The National Teacher of the Year Program is sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers in conjunction with Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. The annual winner is selected from among the teachers nominated by each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools, and American Samoa.

Opera With Class
The 4th graders at East Elementary School in Spearfish, S.D., were skeptical last fall when teacher Cheryl Theisz (below, center) made them put away their textbooks and start composing an opera. But three months later, the Black Hills Classy Kids Opera Company regaled the community with an original work called Friends. Students did everything from composing the music and designing the sets to starring in the production. They say they were so excited about the project that Theisz had to force them to go out for recess. Theisz was inspired to try the project after attending a teacher workshop, sponsored by New York City's Metropolitan Opera Guild, on ways to meld opera production and classroom learning.

Based On A True Story
Bill Cain (right) believes Americans prefer not to look at the dark side of society. So the teacher-turned-playwright is somewhat surprised by the crowds flocking to his first play, Stand Up Tragedy, a disturbing but often funny depiction of life in a Catholic boys' school on Manhattan's Lower East Side. In the play, an idealistic white teacher tries to reach a quiet, artistic Hispanic student struggling with a nightmarish home life. Cain, who kept diaries during his four years as a language-arts teacher at New York City's Nativity Mission School, says most of the play is based on real experiences. It has played to full houses in Hartford, Conn.; Washington, D.C.; and Los Angeles, where it won five Los Angeles Theater Critics Awards, including best play. Despite his success as a playwright, Cain is torn by a desire to return to the classroom. "Writing and working on the play,'' he says, "feels far less valuable than teaching.''

Seeing Is Believing
Thomas Hobart, president of New York State United Teachers, journeyed to Nicaragua in February to observe the country's historic election. As part of an AFL-CIO team of observers, he met with Sandinista leaders and representatives of the National Opposition Union and visited 10 rural voting sites. Says Hobart: "People in the streets would come up to us and tell us their concerns. We'd listen and take their concerns to higher places.'' Hobart, a former history teacher, says he has always believed that people in a totalitarian system, given the choice, will vote for self-determination. "Now that I've seen it,'' he says, "I know it's really true.''

--Daniel Gursky and Lisa Wolcott

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