Utah’s new Teacher of the Year wants ‘every student to feel like a star’

Mark Daniels, who is a theater teacher at Weber High, knew he wanted to be an educator since he was in elementary school.

When Mark Berrett Daniels was in second grade, he was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I said, I wanted to be a teacher,” according to Daniels. “And that kind of stuck with me until I got to fifth grade.”

That year, Daniels was assigned to do a historical presentation, and instead of writing something, he asked, “Can I direct a show about Abraham Lincoln and his life?”

Daniels got some of his friends together to create a small production, and he decided, “I’m going to be a theater teacher.”

Later, after student teaching at Layton High, “I’ve never looked back,” he said. “I have loved it ever since.”

Daniels, who is now a theater teacher at Weber High School in Pleasant View, was named Utah’s newest Teacher of the Year. He described his journey of how he became an educator in a video played at the ceremony Thursday. Daniels, 52, has taught for 25 years, 16 of those at Weber High, where he went to school himself.

Daniels told The Salt Lake Tribune that what makes him so passionate about being a teacher is seeing “the magic of an opening night” or “the friendships made on a closing night” of a production.

He loves to see the “success in the eyes of the students,” as they find find self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth “that might have been buried,” he said.

Along with the title, Daniels, who lives in North Ogden, was given a check for $10,000, and will go on to a national competition, according to a news release from the Utah State Board of Education.

“Mr. Daniels is not only one of the most talented people I’ve ever met, but one of the kindest and hardworking, as well,” Ashton Smith, one of his former students, said in the release.

Daniels “rarely takes days off, and is begging to come back as soon as possible whenever he misses rehearsals or classes,” according to Smith.

“He is dedicated to his teaching and his theater department at Weber, and hundreds of students benefit from it every single year,” Smith said.

Daniels was selected as Teacher of the Year by a committee of representatives from parent and teacher advocacy organizations, charter schools and the State Board of Education, according to the release.

“While most teachers complain of large class sizes, Mark welcomes the opportunity to teach 50-plus students in all of his classes,” Weber High Principal Chris Earnest said in the release. “It doesn’t matter who you are, Mark wants you in his class.”

“He gets to know each student individually and structures his teaching to meet the different learning styles of his students,” according to Earnest.

Daniels teaches his students skills related to communication, relationship building, endurance, humility and teamwork, which help them “become successful now and throughout life,” Earnest said.

As a parent of one of his students, Abigail J. Rigby, said, “his enthusiasm, love and passion for teaching” leaves Daniels “in a league all on his own.”

“I love when I see that students get, understand and also are able to then perform, not just onstage, but in the classroom,” Daniels said in the video that played Thursday.

Daniels said he wants “every student to feel like a star, to find a safe haven in the performing arts,” not just in theater, but in choir, band and orchestra, too.

“The performing arts is a beautiful and brilliant way to let every kid find their niche,” he said.

Daniels said “we were really, really fortunate” to be able to continue doing theater at school during the coronavirus pandemic, even if “everything looked different,” with students wearing masks at rehearsals and performing with shields. It was also entertaining to watch them learn choreography over Zoom, he said.

Last year, Daniels’ students were not able to do the “full-out shows” they normally do, but they were still able to have that experience with “minimal disruptions.” Hopefully, that continues this school year, he said.

Daniels said he is humbled by being named Utah’s Teacher of the Year, and feels grateful to have been considered among the other “qualified and dedicated and talented” educators.

“I’m intimidated by this award because no one gets into it for the recognition,” he said. “This is not why we do this.” Still, “it’s an honor,” Daniels said.

Katherine “Kasey” Bradbury, a choir teacher at Bountiful Junior High School, and Albert Ferrarons Font, a Spanish dual immersion teacher at West Lake STEM Junior High School, were named runners-up. They each received $4,000, according to the release.

Last year’s Teacher of the Year was John Arthur, a fifth grade teacher at at Meadowlark Elementary School in Salt Lake City.

(Utah State Board of Education) Mark Daniels, left, was named Utah's Teacher of the Year Sept. 2, 2021. He is pictured with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sydnee Dickson. Daniels is a theater teacher at Weber High School.