It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Fraco-man!

Aw, shucks. It's really Mark Worthen, a Goshen Elementary School fourth-grade teacher, but he will never admit it.In a time of large classes and limited funds, Worthen makes sure his kids get a better deal. They are taught by a cast of dozens of not-so-super heroes, including Fraco-man.

"Fraco-man comes in each year about the time we are working on fractions," said Worthen, 32. "He wears a hat with felt pieces that look like slices of a pie."

Rumor has it Fraco-man looks a lot like Worthen, but the teacher said he wouldn't know. Fraco-man always seems to appear when Worthen has left the room on a short errand.

"The kids say we even wear similar shirts and pants, but I tell them we must shop at the same stores."

Worthen said students, drawn from Genola, Elberta and Goshen, always learn lots from Fraco-man.

"Entertainment has got to be part of the educational process. The characters get them excited and help them remember. I know I'm doing a good job if I'm having fun. If I'm bored, the students are probably bored too and they have stopped learning."

Worthen will admit to being Professor M.

"I dress up in a hospital outfit they gave me when my wife had one of our children. We always have Professor M kick off the science fair by saying he has perfected some fantastic experiment, but it's always a big flop."

Like the time Professor M tried to transform "a tired, haggard kindergarten teacher into a refreshed, vivacious kindergarten teacher." Unfortunately, what appeared from behind the screen was a teacher wearing a Halloween-type mask that made her look much more haggard than before.

Then there was the incident of the non-bouncing brick.

"The professor had invented a formula he said would make anything bounce. We tried and tried, but eventually the brick broke apart and we had to stop."

Worthen said Professor M always gets students laughing and motivated for their own experiments. "They get to see me flop and I get to see them succeed," he said.

An epidemic of penmanship problems may prompt a visit from Dr. Handwriting.

"I don't know why it is, but fourth-grade girls always want to dot their i's with hearts and add extra flourishes. Dr. Handwriting comes by, diagnoses `frilliosis' or other problems and writes a prescription to cure the handwriting malady."

Many of his characters don't even have names, Worthen said. Some don't wear costumes _ like the alter-ego who forces him to jump onto a student's desk while explaining action verbs. ("It gives them a strong memory. No student ever forgets what an action verb is.")

The characters have simply appeared as needed during his seven-year career, have taught a lesson or righted a wrong and have ridden off into the sunset.

Worthen's philosophy is to treat his students as customers and offer the best service he can, with courtesy. His favorite thing about teaching is "the light coming on in students' faces" when they understand a concept.

Worthen keeps in touch with some of his former students and plans to "whoop it up" at his first students' high school graduation next year.

"I enjoy helping my students learn and progress to more advanced things," Worthen said. "My greatest fear is to be a fuzzy memory from someone's past. I want to be a bright memory as long as they live. I want them to remember they had a good time in fourth grade."

And, he added, if Fraco-man were here, he would stress that kids should also remember their fractions.