Edward Udel: When good things happen to the good



Unfortunately, most of us could compose a long list of good people we know who have had bad things happen to them. Some experience premature death or painful illness. Some are dislodged from comfortable and secure lives when a job is lost or an unpredictable catastrophe occurs. It is therefore, appropriate and energizing to celebrate when good things happen to good people.

Mark Franklin, a graduate of Williams College and the University of Chicago Graduate School, is one of Wahconah High School's most respected English teachers. He was recently selected to receive the 2013 Harvard Excellence in Teaching award. Mr. Franklin, one of only four teachers from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be so honored, was recommended by his principal, James Conro. On Oct. 3, Mark went to the Harvard Club of Boston to receive this award, accompanied by Mary DeMaranville, his department head, Principal Conro, and Wahconah's Samantha Smithies, one of only 1,900 students worldwide who was chosen for the Harvard Student Prize.

Four years ago, Charles Bradshaw, Latin instructor extraordinaire, was similarly honored by Harvard for his exceptional teaching performance and his devotion to the Wahconah community.

My first exposure to Mark Franklin's pedagogical style took place many years ago when I accompanied my son Aaron, then a student at Craneville Elementary School, to a LAMO (Learning About Myself and Others) class. I was impressed with Mark's skill. I confess that I began that program out of a sense of obligation, but I completed it with enthusiasm and appreciation. That course, once taught in several Berkshire County communities, was developed by Ann Nesbit, former science curriculum coordinator for the Pittsfield Public Schools. LAMO was one of several creative and engaging units developed by her curriculum teams.

Some years later, I met Mr. Franklin again. He taught two English courses to my son Aaron, including Advanced Placement senior English. Aaron was a voracious reader throughout his childhood in large part due to the encouragement and quality instruction that he received at Allendale Elementary School in Pittsfield and Craneville, followed by very productive experiences at Nessacus and Wahconah. Along the way, he developed a love for literature and writing. Aaron went on to double major in English and philosophy at Brandeis University, and he is now in graduate school preparing for a teaching career.

I got to know Mark Franklin through Aaron's reliable eyes. Aaron told me that Mr. Franklin does not assign "busy work." Each assignment has a purpose and value. Mr. Franklin has ways to inspire students to read. He welcomes students' opinions and analysis, skillfully guiding them to identify and use details from the literature to support their arguments and to identify important connections to their lives.

In a recently composed profile of Mr. Franklin, Aaron states, "He made impressive digressions by naturally following associations between ideas. These digressions, far from disrupting the flow of class discussions, helped frame ideas in new contexts and created ways to help remember the material." No topic was out of bounds and students felt empowered to offer their own unique perspectives. Mr. Franklin created a climate of mutual respect and trust.

Aaron, generally a quiet and reflective young man, is not prone to excessive public displays of emotion, but his face lights up when he describes Mr. Franklin's writing instruction. Aaron credits him for strengthening his skills with a steady flow of constructive and detailed suggestions and corrections. Aaron coveted the sage advice in the paragraph Mr. Franklin always wrote at the end of each essay.

Mr. Franklin often shares his own writing with students. This puts students at ease and creates comfortable opportunities for students to share ideas.

Mark always finds the time for one-on-one conversations about literature or writing and he has been known to spend many hours arranging for and encouraging Wahconah students to perform music or improve their instrumental skills. He frequently performs at school assemblies. You may be among the thousands who have heard him play guitar for the Earth Angels concerts and even sing an occasional solo.

Aaron has chosen to become a secondary school English teacher, a decision no doubt influenced by Mark Franklin. I thank him for inspiring Aaron and the countless others who have benefited from his extraordinary skill, warmth and generosity.

Principal Conro has a very welcome problem. He can only nominate one candidate each year for this Harvard honor and he has many deserving teachers to choose from in every department. Mark Franklin is one of many educators at Wahconah who make my limited role there as a substitute teacher so enjoyable and satisfying. He is in every way a credit to the Central Berkshire Regional Schools and to the teaching profession.

As to my decision to highlight Mark Franklin's accomplishments, I am merely following his colleague Charles Bradshaw's sage advice. Carpe Diem! Seize the opportunity to celebrate when good things happen to good people!

A longtime teacher in the Pittsfield school system and former chairman of the Taconic English Department, Edward Udel is a frequent Eagle contributor.


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