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Their Future Is Important To Me

The funny business of putting on a stage show.

This weekend I co-hosted "A Salute to Teachers" in San Diego. At first, I thought, "What?"

I occasionally host events for CNBC, usually CFA forecast dinners-fun, low-key affairs full of talk about commodities and China.

Jane Wells
CNBC.com
Jane Wells

But a salute to teachers?

For 19 years, Cox Communications and the office of education in San Diego have been celebrating the county's best teachers. And when CNBC signed on to the event, my old friend, Dennis Morgigno-who hosts it every year-asked me to help.

Turns out, this is not your typical rubber chicken dinner. I asked if I should wear business casual or a cocktail dress.

Um. Neither. I needed to buy a gown.

(Found one on sale at Nordstrom! The upside of the down economy!)

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So for two hours Saturday night, in a live broadcast on Cox's Channel 4, teachers dressed to the nines filled the renovated Balboa Theater to watch a show which included musical acts chosen from the best student groups. l loved a hilarious male quartet called the "Acafellas"--they claim they had the name before Fox used it in "Glee". It was like the Academy Awards, except teachers were the stars. And in a year where California has been forced to slash education spending, the fact that sponsors gave of their time, talent, and money to make teachers feel special was...special.

So who won? Out of 44 nominees and ten finalists, five Teachers of the Year were chosen.

There was Donna Farquar, who helps kids learn English in the Santee School District, a woman who looks and sounds like she was born to help.

Mike Love teaches math at Mt. Miguel High School, where he mentors minority students and takes time each week to share a motivational or humorous reading "to make the formal learning fun and accessible."

Kelly Kovacic is young and wide-eyed, full of energy and hope as she educates low-income students at the Preuss School with the goal of preparing them for college. She let's these under privileged kids know college is possible. In fact, anything is possible.

Eric Mabrey could not have been recognized at a more meaningful moment. He created the music program at Olympian High School and now senses the budget ax like a wolf at the door. Arts programs are always the first to go, and he told me how important it is to keep arts programming alive. "It can change lives."

Most interesting to me was Melanie Tolan, a petite brunette who teaches English, history, and physical education...at Juvenile Hall. She spends her life teaching young men that it is possible to be a successful student on the outside. I can only imagine the challenges she faces now as budgets for both education and the prison system are shrinking. Still, she tries to provide a safe haven and a nurturing learning environment, setting daily goals for her students. "Their future is important to me."

Congratulations to the winners. Forget celebrating actors and the Oscars. I think San Diego is on to something. Yes, it took a lot of time and effort (and money) to put on a show, but it may have given teachers in the audience just the boost they need to keep at it, to try harder, to make a difference, to be creative, at a time when they are dealing with bigger class sizes and fewer dollars. And that is a good investment.

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com