Every school teacher preparing to face a room of pupils returning from holiday this week ought to read Alexia Russell's story in this paper today. It is not critical of them, they get enough of that. This one is of a parent's gratitude for efforts made for her son who had special needs.

She is not talking about one or two, she credits all of them with helping to get her son the NCEA credits that gave him an employable skill. "That's what teachers do," she said, "when they are not distracted by compiling national standards, or trying to remember the correct protocol for breaking up fights in the classroom."

She is so right. Our experience of education exists in two worlds. One is the world of politics and newsworthy incidents that can make the system seem riddled with dissension and its rules ridiculous. The other world is the teachers we meet and the pupils and classrooms we see when go to a school.

Any school. It's true, as state educationists say, that all children can safely go to their nearest school. Their parents have no reason to send them out of zone. Schools vary in the wealth of their community but all are very good at making every pupil feel welcome, valued and part of its family. Most importantly, the education of every one of them matters equally.

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The struggling will be helped, the high achievers will be recognised. The much maligned NCEA enables all of them to leave school with something worthwhile, whether it is a ticket to university or a skill they can take to industry.

The system is not perfect and will always strive to improve but this week, as thousands of children flock to schools refreshed and keen after the summer break, it is a good time to acknowledge the quality of our teachers, schools and education system.

Everyone who casts their mind back to their school days can remember certain teachers who meant much to us. It might have been their subject and their ability to stimulate our interest in it, it might have been their enthusiasm for teaching or their warmth and interest and help.

There is nothing teachers like better than to be told how much their efforts were appreciated. They work hard to find ways that excite young minds with knowledge. It is not easy and no doubt often disheartening. But they succeed far more often than probably they ever know.