When it comes to teachers, I'm absolutely biased. I think it's prudent to disclose that before you read any more.

My father retired last year after 39 years as a math teacher, first in upstate New York, then in Virginia, where he worked at the largest high school in the United States (at the time). Then there's my aunt, who has put in 30+ years as a teacher's assistant in the special education services department. Then there are about a dozen or so close friends who teach in Fairfield county and the surrounding areas.

Through these people I get the behind-the-scenes view of what it means to be a teacher. I see them putting in 50--60 hours a week; I see them working nights and weekends -- correcting papers, creating lesson plans, meeting with parents; I see them spending their own money for supplies; I see them constantly having to adapt to new administrative policies, curriculum ideas or teaching methods -- in some cases furthering their own education without much of a reward.

Teaching is a huge responsibility. It involves a ton of work for much too little pay. You have to really love what you're doing if you want to be a teacher, and you'd better make sure you have the patience and the drive.

I was a teacher for a fleeting moment. While working as the managing editor of the Westport News a few years ago, I took a job teaching basic English grammar at Gibbs College. The job was extremely demanding and time-consuming. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done -- and this was a three-hour class that only met once a week.

What I discovered was that if you're going to teach, you'd better make sure you have the time to do it well. I did not. I was burnt out after a year, and as a measure of self-preservation, have vowed never to try that again.

This week we're reminded to thank the teachers in our lives -- show them that we appreciate their efforts to make us better people. They do this in both grand and subtle ways, but either way, these efforts are under-appreciated.

We're asking you to set aside some time this week and send us a short letter about a teacher who has made a difference in your life. Then on Friday, we'll publish these letters as part of Westport's salute to teachers.

If you don't feel like sharing your feelings in a public forum, at least take the time to send your favorite teacher a note of thanks. Things like that make such a difference in their lives, and it's the least you can do for someone who is responsible for making a difference in yours.

Send letters to fmoore@bcnnew.com.

Also, please take the time to read some of the stories we'll have this week highlighting just a small example of the great things the town's teachers are doing.