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Weber High’s Daniels ‘honored’ to be Utah teacher of the year

By Harrison Epstein - | Sep 7, 2021
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Mark Daniels laughs while playing a theater game with his sophomore class at Weber High School on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Daniels was named Utah's 2021 Teacher of the Year the day before.
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Mark Daniels explains a theater game with his sophomore class at Weber High School on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Daniels was named Utah's 2021 Teacher of the Year the day before.
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Mark Daniels teaches a sophomore theater class at Weber High School on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Daniels was named Utah's 2021 Teacher of the Year the day before.
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Mark Daniels laughs while playing a theater game with his sophomore class at Weber High School on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Daniels was named Utah's 2021 Teacher of the Year the day before.
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Mark Daniels teaches a sophomore theater class at Weber High School on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Daniels was named Utah's 2021 Teacher of the Year the day before.
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The nameplate for Mark Daniels sits in his classroom at Weber High School on Friday, Sept. 3, 2021. Daniels was named Utah's 2021 Teacher of the Year the day before.

PLEASANT VIEW — Laughter echoes down the halls of Weber High School. Students are hooked on every word. Not listening with respect like they would for any teacher — hooked.

Mark Daniels, according to just about everyone he interacts with, is a special kind of teacher — someone who goes above and beyond to make sure all students are safe and supported — which is why it was of little surprise to the people around him that Daniels was named the 2022 Utah teacher of the year by the state board of education.

On Thursday, Daniels and the other finalists (Katherine Bradbury of Bountiful Junior High and Albert Ferrarons Font of West Lake STEM Junior High) were recognized at a banquet in their honor. For earning teacher of the year honors, Daniels received $10,000 and will be eligible for national teacher of the year recognition.

“I was just hoping that the state would get it right. It’s very obvious that he has a natural talent for teaching and he could bring out the best in anybody,” said Chris Earnest, Weber High School’s principal. “That goes for his peers too; he’s a role model to all of us. In our meetings, he gets all of us engaged and going and he’s just phenomenal all the way around.”

At the start of another school year, Daniels is committing his time and energy to another batch of students.

Whether it’s a sophomore wandering on stage for the first time or a theater mainstay, Daniels hopes they feel at home. Most of the time, 99% of the time by Daniels’ estimation, the door to his classroom will be open. Before school, after school or at lunch, a student can almost always find refuge and peace in the theater room.

“They need to have that place, a retreat. They need to have a place where they can come and feel accepted,” he said.

An actor at heart, and still at times, Daniels knew since he was in elementary school that he wanted to be a teacher. Despite, he said, pushing back against it for a while, he decided to ultimately do what he loved and got inside of the classroom — something he’s now done for over two decades. It allows him to help students grow as actors and individuals.

“I tell my kids on the very first day of school, ‘I’m not here to train the next Broadway star,'” he said. “If that happens, you better believe I’ll be there on your opening night … but that’s not my goal. My goal is to train you to become the best version of yourself that you can be.”

While he has had a few students make it to Broadway in his 26 years of teaching, Daniels laughed and said if that were his goal, he would’ve failed.

Earnest noticed right away how well students listened to, and learned from, their teacher.

Daniels was part of the collaborative leadership team for the high school after a summer training session. He came back to Weber with the information to share and the energy to earn his peers’ trust.

“He’s a natural. It’s a gift. There’s certain parts of Mark that I just wish we could replicate and give to every teacher,” Earnest said.

The work Daniels puts in doesn’t go unnoticed by the students either. The announcement released by the Utah State Board of Education included comments from former students about his character.

“Mr. Daniels is not only one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, but one of the kindest and hardworking as well,” wrote a former student, Ashton Smith, in the press release. “Throughout my experience at Weber High, Daniels rarely takes days off, and is begging to come back as soon as possible whenever he misses rehearsals or classes. He is dedicated to his teaching and his theatre department at Weber, and hundreds of students benefit from it every single year.”

Uncomfortable with the accolades and attention, Daniels keep his focus on the students. No matter the awards and the honors, it all goes back to the kids in the classroom and enjoying every day.

“I do what I love. Life’s too short not to do what you love.”

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