Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Spotlight: 10 Questions for Paula Franklin (TN '17)

March 1, 2018

1000w Knoxville 2017 Paula Franklin hug from student2

Government teacher Paula Franklin (TN ’17) wants students to leave her class inspired to become involved citizens: “I just hope they remember that I care about them and want them to be successful.” She won her Tennessee Milken Educator Award at West High School in Knoxville on November 16, 2017.


1. What went through your mind when you heard Lowell call your name at your surprise notification?

Paula Franklin: I was completely shocked and could not believe he really said my name. Sometimes I still can’t believe it! The next morning I went back and watched the video again just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

2. How did your students respond to your Milken Award? What impact has it had on them?

Paula: My students were so proud of me and of our school. I think they definitely see what I do and what all of my colleagues do as a bigger deal now and see teaching in a more positive light.

1000w Knoxville 2017 Paula Franklin disbelieving ed

3. How did you end up in education?

Paula: My high school AP Biology teacher, Mr. Wheatley, inspired me to become a teacher. He made it evident in his class that he cared about his students as people first; whatever we learned about biology was secondary. As a result, I learned a lot of biology but a tremendous amount about myself, for which I am forever grateful.

After high school I earned a bachelor’s in Political Science and a master’s in Teacher Education and then moved with my husband to Atlanta. I was from out of state and it was the middle of a local testing scandal, so I couldn’t find a teaching job. I subbed for a while and eventually got an opportunity back in Knoxville. I have been happy at West High School ever since.

4. Who are your role models as an educator?

Paula: I have learned from so many excellent educators along my journey. My college advisor, Laura Stetler, encouraged and coached me through the application and interview process for admission to the teacher education program at the University of Tennessee. My mentors during my internship, Shasta Todd and Elizabeth Blankenship, gave me the tools and support I needed during my internship to feel confident transitioning into a full-time position. My friend and mentor in my interim placements in Atlanta, Anna Yang, encouraged me not to give up even though finding a job was proving difficult and sometimes defeating. My friend and onetime assistant principal, Shannon Siebe, gave me an opportunity to fulfill my dreams by hiring me at West.

My mentor at West High, fellow Milken Educator Award recipient Lou Gallo, took me under his wing and shared his knowledge endlessly about not just delivering content, but actually teaching the material in meaningful and engaging ways. My amazing administrators at West for allowing me to be a teacher leader within our school and pushing me constantly to be better every day than I was the day before. And all of my colleagues at West who pour themselves out onto our kids and our school and make this such an amazing place to work.

1000w Knoxville 2017 Paula Franklin Lou Gallo

5. What memories stand out from your first year of teaching?

Paula: I was hired in September for my first full-time teaching job into a position where the teacher I was replacing had been at the school for a long time and had built great relationships with her kids. I had big shoes to fill and my students were not excited about having a new teacher. Eventually they bought into me and what I was trying to do, and we had a good time. At the end of the year one of my U.S. History students told me that they really hated me at first, but now they enjoyed my class, which made me feel good.

One of the funniest things happened that year during a mock congress project. I modeled it on a similar project I had done in college; each student picked a member of Congress to play in a class simulation. We spent a couple of weeks researching real bills that the legislators had presented. On the day of the simulation one student got up to present his bill on “revolving door” regulations, talking about how dangerous revolving doors were and sharing statistics about revolving-door-related injuries and deaths. Revolving door regulations, of course, are about career politicians moving from Congress to lobbying, not about revolving doors. After I explained what the “revolving door” was we all had a good laugh. I learned to be more vigilant in circulating and supporting students during group work.

6. What are students most likely to remember about their time in your class?

Paula: Of course I hope they remember the government curriculum and projects we did together, and that they become involved citizens. But they will also likely remember the time we spent discussing their weekends and future plans at the beginning of class on Mondays. I just hope they remember that I care about them and want them to be successful.

1000w Paula Franklin quote

7. What’s your biggest challenge in the classroom?

Paula: Time! The end of the year sneaks up on me every year and I am constantly working to refine my courses to fit in as many different learning opportunities for my students as possible so that I can reach more of them.

8. How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?

Paula: I plan to pay down some student debt and save the rest. Maybe a fun vacation, we’ll see.

1000w Knoxville 2017 Paula Franklin check students

9. What would you say to a student who expresses interest in a career in education?

Paula: After I hugged their neck, I would tell them that working in education is hard but worth it, and I wouldn’t do anything else.

10. What’s your definition of success?

Paula: Success is making a difference and feeling like your work is your joy.

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