Brad Whately of Williamstown was honored as a teacher of the year by MCLA earlier this month.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Dr. Brad Whateley chose to change careers in 2004 after 20 years as a physician, some people questioned his decision.
He was not swayed by the naysayers, but proved he has the ability to perform notably in two professions: teaching and practicing medicine.
Whateley, now a physics teacher at Pittsfield High School, was one the recipients of the Berkshire County Educator Recognition Award this year.
Given by the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in collaboration with Berkshire County K-12 superintendents, the award was created to honor an exceptional teacher in each of three categories, preschool to Grade 2, Grades 2-6 and Grade 7 to 12.
This year's recipients, Whately, Jo-Ellen Height (elementary education) and Patricia Robie (early childhood education) were recognized on May 1.
Cynthia Brown, MCLA's vice president of academic affairs, said of Whateley, "He is a calm and inspiring teacher who truly engages students in what can be a challenging subject."
AT PHS, Whateley has expanded Advance Placement physics from one to three sections and provided leadership, in adding an early physics program and an engineering course.
In a recent interview, Whateley was quick to point out that "the first year (9th grade physics) idea is not unique, it's been used across the country. The PHS version was the idea of our previous science chairwoman Maureen Boino. The 'Principles of Engineering' course is an elective that gives students a sense of different engineering disciplines. Sort of engineering appreciation, analogous to the old fashion music appreciation."
But the unassuming Whateley can not deny that he alone is responsible for the interesting, unpredictable and fun environment in his classroom.
"I love being in Brad's classroom, watching how he makes the kids think and be creative and problem solve," said PHS Principal Matthew Bishop. "He understands the kids and the learning process and tailors what he is doing to make it interesting."
If students are struggling with the physics course, Whateley encourages them to persevere.
"I tell them failure is a part of learning, it's a cliche but you do learn the most from getting things incorrect. Most everyone learns to ride a bike though they usually fall off a lot before they get it," the physics teacher said.
As a student at Cornell University, he aspired to being a biomedical engineer, and graduated with an engineering degree. He continued his education at the George Washington University School of Medicine because some professors told if he went to medical school, he would understand how biomedical engineering could serve the medical world.
In medical school, however, Whateley discovered he liked biological science more than he liked biomedical engineering and decided to become a doctor.
He earned his medical degree and taught internal medicine for a year as a member of the George Washington faculty.
"I have always liked to teach and to learn," Whateley said. "I had great teachers and mentors over the years. My father had the greatest influence over me. He was interested in everything. He tried all sorts of things — painting, being in music ... ."
In 1989, Whateley, a native of New York, moved to Williamstown and joined the Williamstown Medical Associates practice as a primary-care physician.
Nothing in particular influenced his decision to switch careers in 2004 and become an educator, he said. "It just felt like the right time. Everything fell in place."
"If you haven't done it, you may be surprised that the two professions are similar. You improve people's well-being. As a doctor, besides the obvious ways, I taught people about health and what they could do to be healthy. Educators improve people's well-being by making them knowledgeable and curious. Each approach is valuable."
There is a difference between the two professions, however, that Whateley enjoys. "[Teachers] do not need to get up at 3 o'clock in the morning to rush to the emergency room."
For Whateley, teaching young people is satisfying: "They are full of energy and have a great spirit and all kinds of wisdom in their way."
When asked if he hears from former students who tell of what they learned in physics class being necessary or at least helpful in their line of work, Whateley replied:
"I am happy to say that my colleagues at Pittsfield High School and I have turned out quite a few budding scientists and engineers. I know that many keep in touch with a lot of the teachers."