When Frank M. Aiello graduated from Towson State University in 1969, the Social Security Administration offered him "a fortune" to start as a computer programmer -- $9,000, as he recalls.
He turned it down to take a teaching job at City College in Baltimore for $6,800 a year.
Twenty-three years later, the Class of 1992 at Mount Hebron High School honored Aiello as the teacher who had most influenced the students during their school careers. A year earlier, the Class of 1991 made the same selection.
This for a man who stands in front of a calculus class and says things like, "If a spring has a natural length of 3 feet and a 10-pound force stretches it to 3.5 feet, then F equals C times X -- that's Hook's Law -- so 10 equals C times .5 and C equals 20."
Aiello was among nine teachers from county schools who were honored as outstanding by graduating seniors.
Aiello's classroom has no color posters to distract the eye from the equations covering the chalkboard and no front-wall decoration other than an "I love physics" bumper sticker and a School of Technology pennant.
"He's an awesome teacher," says senior Steven Esbrandt, 17. "He has a great way of explaining things. He's very patient and takes time to explain."
Sarah Rollek, 17, a senior who was in Aiello's class as a freshman and again this year, agrees. "Even when I wasn't in his class, he would still help me. Last year when I had trig, I was here one day I know till 4 o'clock. He doesn't say, 'I can't do it. I have something else.' "
Aiello decided when he was in the 11th grade that he would teach math. Math came easily to him and he wanted to work with young people.
He calls Maryland home because that's where his parents settled when he was 18, but the six Aiello children grew up everywhere, as military youngsters do. The Army had sent his father to Italy in World War II, where he met and married Frank's mother.
The family spoke only Italian at home, and Aiello didn't learn English until he entered an American school in the second grade. He's lost some facility with Italian since his parents died, but is still fluent.
Aiello taught for four years at City College, then two years at Northeast Senior High School in Anne Arundel County before coming to Hebron 17 years ago. He earned a master's degree from Morgan State University in 1975. He chairs the math department and is senior class sponsor, a busy schedule but not as stressful as 1987-1988.
That year, Aiello was the Vikings' head football coach, chaired the math department, taught his son Marcus in math class and coached him on the football field. Aiello's wife Katherine is a Columbia dentist.
The stress didn't stem from the father-son, teacher-student, coach-player relationships, but from taking on too many jobs, Aiello says.
"I feel if I do something, I have to do it right. I couldn't do that."
Marcus graduated in 1988 and is now a senior at University of Maryland Baltimore County. In 1988-1989, Frank Aiello reduced his workload by giving up coaching football.
Some of Aiello's colleagues avoid teaching their children, but he felt it was a good experience.
The advantage, he says, is that "It's a unique thing to be able to look into your own child's mind. As a teacher you get a chance to look into a child's mind. He's not the same person in the classroom that he is at home."
Teachers from other county schools who were honored as outstanding by the graduating seniors are:
James Plutschak, Atholton. Plutschak, 48, has been teaching math for 27 years. He came to Atholton 10 years ago after a teaching career in Maryland colleges. He grew up on a Caroline County farm, graduated from Salisbury State College in 1965 and earned a master's degree in 1970 from Loyola College. He and his wife Julianne, who chairs the English department at Pikesville Middle School, have two daughters, 26 and 22.
"Teaching is a wonderful career," he says. "It's nice to wake up each morning and know you're going to have something different each day. Whatever you give to the kids, I think they give right back to you."
Ava Vecchioni, Centennial. An English teacher for 30 years, 15 of them at Centennial, Vecchioni plans to retire at the end of this year. She graduated from Western Maryland College in 1954 and earned a master's degree at Johns Hopkins University in 1973. Vecchioni, 59, came to Centennial with the school's first principal, Angelo Fortunato, who was allowed to bring some of his faculty members from Western High in Baltimore to the new school. She and her husband Pietro "Pete," who owns a boat-repair business, have two daughters and one son, four granddaughters and one grandson.
Vecchioni says she always wanted to teach. "My mother said it's always a good job for a woman to have if she's going to have a family. She was right. It has been a wonderful profession for me, and I've lived a charmed professional life."