IT WASN’T TOO LONG AGOthat Es Swihart sat at Riverview High School as a student. Now, the English instructor represents the school as Sarasota County’s Teacher of the Year, a program made possible by the Education Foundation of Sarasota County. Swihart, a consultant for student-led theater productions and faculty sponsor for the Girl Up campus group, spent the past five years at her own alma mater, and logged four years at IMG Academy before that. We spoke with the premier educator about this honor and the importance of education as a whole.

SRQ: What’s it like teaching at a school you also attended as a student?  Swihart:It’s a totally different building, but it’s an interesting perspective for sure. We have great students and wonderful teachers here, so it’s nice to work with great kids and with great colleagues. Everybody is dedicated and capable. I work with so many inspiring people. It’s funny, I graduated from Riverview in 2001, and BJ Ivey won last year for the county, and he graduated from Riverview the year before I did.

What’s it like sponsoring the Girl Up organization when there’s been so much attention on giving women a greater voice in society? It’s been a very dynamic year with the club. They are a group of strong students who are so great together. It’s a space to open up and share their experiences as either a girl or a boy—we have both in the club—and to share what their perspective is just existing with these labels and dichotomies in the world, what it’s like to have those experiences and be subject to other’s views of right or wrong, and what their reactions are to those things happening in the world. We talk a lot about advocacy, and how to support that or get more information out. And we get into women’s issues that are global, not just those in the United States.

In what way do you feel it is important to serve as a voice for teachers based on this honor?  Considering the importance of this profession, the role teachers play is significant and something we deal with every day. My philosophy is to try to educate the community and articulate better the nature of education in the first place. You see students and people think about grades and education as a means to an end: to get to college, get a job and go forward with a career. As if that’s the end goal, and it doesn’t matter how you get there. What get’s lost there is the chance to expand, grow and bridge all subject areas and make connections between them. It doesn’t matter if you remember Hamlet’s tragic flaw at age 35, but if you can analyze Hamlet, discuss it and consider its implications on your own world—regarding class, gender, global context—you can do that with anything in life that’s put in front of you. All of these are tools to think about in the world in front of you. I hope for more of a community effort to explain why we educate as a necessity for growth, and to award happiness and productivity. The rest takes care of itself. And that’s not just about teachers but the whole community.