James Franco and Esther Wojcicki
Actor James Franco was born in Palo Alto, California in 1978. The Golden Globe winner is best known for his works as a teen heartthrob on the NBC series Freaks and Geeks and films like Never Been Kissed (1999) starring Drew Barrymore. Franco studied acting under Robert Carnegie, Jeff Goldblum, and Tony Savant. He also spent time training at the Playhouse West in North Hollywood.
Soon after landing the role as Daniel on Freaks and Geeks, Franco earned a series of roles in teen-oriented motion pictures. He appeared in Whatever It Takes (2000), Mean People Suck (2000), and starred in the film Blind Spot (2001). After his award-winning performance as James Dean, he appeared in Deuces Wild (2002) and played the part of Harry Osborn in the Spider-Man trilogy. In 2006, Franco co-starred with Tyrese Gibson in Annapolis and played the legendary hero Tristan in the film Tristan & Isolde. Shortly thereafter, Franco appeared in Flyboys (2006) and appeared briefly in The Wicker Man (2006), a horror film starring Nicolas Cage.
James Franco starred in several sucessful fils over the past few years, including Pineapple Express, a comedy co-starring Seth Rogen and written and produced by Judd Apatow. James also received wide acclaim for his portrayal of Scott Smith in the film Milk
This past year, James has found even greater success, starring in a number of high grossing films including 127 Hours, a role for which he received an Academy Award nomination.
Esther Wojcicki, a 2007 Walt Clarkson Memorial Award for Excellence in Advising winner, teaches journalism at Palo Alto High School, in Palo Alto, California. In her time at Palo Alto, Esther has transformed the journalism program there from a small enterprise involving 19 students and a typewriter to a three-part program consisting of Broadcast Journalism, Magazine Journalism, and Newspaper Journalism. It is the largest journalism program in the country, involving almost 400 students and three journalism teachers, and it has garnered extensive national recognition. For example, The Campanile, the student newspaper she advises, was chosen as the most outstanding high school newspaper in the nation by Time magazine and Time for Kids in 2002, and the website won two Webby Awards in 2005 (http://www.voice.paly.net/). In 2002, Esther was named California Teacher of the Year. She has written for several different publications, including The Los Angeles Times and Time magazine, and has been the recipient of numerous awards. She received her Bachelor of the Arts and Master of Journalism degrees at University of California, Berkeley, and a Master of the Arts in Education Computer Technology at San Jose State University, in addition to completing several other programs at other schools.
Ms. Wojcicki’s thoughts on teaching and her recollections of having James Franco as her pupil are reflected in this interview:
TeachersCount: What’s your favorite part of being a teacher?
Esther Wojcicki: The best part of being a teacher is being able to share a small part of students’ lives for a short time, helping them realize their dreams, and knowing that I played a small role in their success. As a teacher of journalism, I feel strongly that communication skills are paramount in all walks of life and that is why I work to make sure my students are not only good writers, but also good verbal communicators and good problem solvers. I get to know each of my students so I can work with them as individuals.
I feel strongly about the value of journalism in the high school curriculum. Journalism is the only subject that joins what students learn in English, social studies, technology, photography, and art into one class where they use those skills to work together to produce a product of which they can be proud---a newspaper, magazine or website. In doing so they learn life skills----how to get along with each other to reach a common goal.
TC: What do you wish everyone understood about teaching?
EW: I wish that everyone understood that teachers need the support of the parents and the community to help educate students. Teachers cannot do it alone. Everyone needs to realize that the best way to improve education is to have smaller class sizes, which will allow teachers to individualize instruction and have time to work with each student. The average high school teacher today has 150 students per day.
TC: What do you most recall about having James as your student?
EW: I remember James as a very creative and very smart but somewhat shy young man. I also remember thinking that he looked a lot like James Dean and I mentioned it to him. He laughed.
TC: When James was your student, were there any indications of what the future held for him?
EW: I knew that he was destined for something great in the creative world since he was a very good writer; I just never guessed he would be an actor primarily because he was shy. Years later when I asked how he overcame the shyness, he said that acting gave him the license to be free and act like someone else.
TC: How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
EW: The number one tenet of my teaching philosophy is that I believe that every student wants to be successful; he/she just needs help reaching that goal and that is where I come in as the teacher. Some students are afraid they cannot succeed because they have a history of failure, but if the teacher believes in them, they will believe in themselves. I feel it is very important to treat students with respect and trust.