Retiring teacher made subjects ‘come alive’

By Dick Mason, The Observer June 13, 2012 08:50 am

Greg  Franklin, who is retiring as a science teacher at La Grande High School, stands in front of a collage of photos of field trips he took many of his classes on. DICK MASON / The Observer
Greg Franklin, who is retiring as a science teacher at La Grande High School, stands in front of a collage of photos of field trips he took many of his classes on. DICK MASON / The Observer

Greg Franklin ends 31-year career at LHS -million budget for 2012-13

Retiring La Grande High School science teacher Greg Franklin is facing a dilemma, one which brings a secret of his successful career –– one long in plain sight –– into sharp focus.

Franklin’s problem concerns a large understated display in the back of his classroom, a collection of images that are timeless and time worn. 

They are images, some tattered and slightly yellowed, of young people hiking, riding boats down Hells Canyon, floating down the Wallowa looking for fossils in the John Day area and more. Young people who are having the time of their lives but also absorbing knowledge for they were in a favorite classroom of Franklin’s, one where school bells are not heard but the cries of eagles are. 

They are the fortunate students who went on some of the many science field trips Franklin led during his teaching career. 

“We had a lot of fun even in the worst of weather,” Franklin said.

He will never forget one three-day field trip in the Wallowas marred by a terrible storm the first day. Some students were hanging their heads until Franklin said they could return to La Grande and be back in school in class on Monday. The students suddenly perked up and begged their teacher not to cut the field trip, scheduled to run through a Monday, short.

Franklin, who is retiring after a 31-year career at LHS, is worried that he will lose his photographic record of his field trips because of the enormity of the collage. He doubts he will be able to move it but still wants to retain its images.

“It means a lot to me,” Franklin said. 

He is considering having segments of the 8- by 4-foot collage photographed in six segments and then using them as rotating screensavers for his computer. 

The collage symbolizes the extra effort Franklin made throughout his career to reach out to students and get them to embrace science.

Fellow LHS science teacher Pat Desjardin appreciates how skillfully Franklin has been able to do this. 

“Greg makes subjects come alive.”

Desjardin adds that Franklin is a master of the art of teaching students as much content as possible without overwhelming them.

“He has the right touch.”

Franklin said one of the things he likes about teaching is the flexibility educators are afforded.

“As long as you do a good job you can do whatever you want,” Franklin said.

He explained that teachers must follow a curriculum but have the freedom to use whatever strategy they want.

The strategies he used were successful. This was evident on May 16 when Franklin was presented a Crystal Apple award for educational excellence by the InterMountain Education Service District. 

Franklin was described as one of the most popular teachers at LHS at the Crystal Apple awards ceremony. It is an apt description, according to Tom Kenny, an LHS math teacher.

“He is definitely a student favorite,” Kenny said. 

A gift for being able to spin tales the likes of which are never found in textbooks is one reason. 

“He is good storyteller. He keeps students entertained,” said Kenny.

Whether teaching outdoors or in the classroom, Franklin is always a whirlwind of energy. Desjardin said this reflects how much he cares about his students. 

The Crystal Apple Award Franklin received in May is one of several honors he has received.

In 2005 he was state teacher of the year by the Oregon Traffic Education Association. The award recognized Franklin’s work as a driver education teacher for the old Union-Baker Education Service District. Franklin earlier taught driver education at LHS before the program was cut because of lack of funding. 

Franklin spent many hours on the road with students as a driver education teacher. He received a close call about 15 years ago when a student hit the accelerator instead of the brake and jumped a curb and crashed into a pole. Fortunately, nobody was injured.

“It really shook us up. It happened so fast we didn’t know what happened,” the educator said. 

A love of skiing helped put the education career of Franklin in motion 40 years ago.

Franklin, who had just graduated from EOU, started his career as a science teacher at Lakeview High School in 1972. He was drawn to Lakeview because it is 10 miles from the Warner Canyon Ski Area. 

Three years later, Franklin took a science teaching position at Union High Schoo,l where he worked for six years before taking his position at LHS.

At LHS, the classes he taught included earth science, earth dynamics and computer programing. 

Most of the field trips Franklin took students on were earlier in his career. Lack of school funding prevented him from being able to take students on trips later.

Franklin said his years as a high school teacher have passed quickly.

“It (teaching) keeps you young. Being around young people is fun,” Franklin said. “Everyday is different.”

Do not look for Franklin, who started his high school teaching career in a leap year and is ending it in one, to leap into a easy chair.

Franklin, an avid outdoorsman, plans to go on many hunting and fishing trips and may teach at Blue Mountain Community College. Should Franklin teach at BMCC, his new students no doubt will find themselves smiling frequently while tackling challenging subject matter.

“They (Franklin’s students) have fun but he is still able to get work out of them,” Kenny said. “It is a sweet blend.”