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Transforming Education: Ninth in a series

TRANSFORMING EDUCATION TODAY
(Ninth in a Series of Interviews with Education Leaders)
Featuring Peggy Brookins--

President & CEO of

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

Note from Chuck Cascio: Given the difficult issues facing educators today in the USA, I have been running a series in which I contact established educators and request their insights, in theirown words, on a number of vitally important education issues. Readers who would like to comment on the views expressed may email me at chuckwrites@yahoo.com. My Twitter handle is @ChuckCascio. Not all comments will be responded to by me and/or the individuals interviewed, but all will be read and, if appropriate, forwarded to others engaged in meaningful education reform. I am honored to present as the ninth interview in this series the views of Peggy Brookins, President & CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (www.nbpts.org) who has dedicated her incredible career to all aspects of education. Peggy's profile appears below:

     Peggy Brookins is President & CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and a former NBPTS Board member. Her long career as an educator includes many national leadership positions and accolades. In July 2014, President Barack Obama named Peggy as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Peggy came to the National Board from the Engineering and Manufacturing Institute of Technology at Forest High School in Ocala, Florida, which she co-founded in 1994 and where she served as director and as a mathematics instructor. 

     In addition to being on the NBPTS Board from 2007-2011, Peggy has served on the board of the Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences Ad Hoc Committee on Teachers as Professionals; the Content Technical Working Group for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers; as a commissioner on the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP); the P21 Executive Board; and the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Teacher Prep Commission.  She has been a national trainer for AFT (Thinking Mathematics K-2, 3-6, 6-8 Common Core, collaborator, and national trainer for Thinking Mathematics 6-8). 

     Peggy also currently serves on the Advisory Board of Digital Promise; the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) Executive Board; the Fund for Teachers Executive Board; the Out Teach Executive Board; Bowie State University and the STAR Program Advisory Board; the National Geographic Education Audit Advisory Board; the Eddie and Jules Trump Foundation of Israel Advisory Board; the Class Strategic Advisory Board; the Learning Variability Project Advisory Board; the Global Teacher Leadership Advisory Board; and Teach Plus.  

     Peggy achieved her certification in Adult and Young Adolescent Mathematics in 2003 and renewed in 2013. She was inducted into the University of Florida Alumni Hall of Fame in 2009, received the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) “Woodie Flowers” Award in 2016, is a Florida Education Association “Everyday Hero,” and received the association’s Excellence in Teaching Award. In 2013, Peggy was named an Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar. 

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>>>Recalling your own life as a student, going back as far as you would like, what do you remember as the most positive and most negative educational influences for you personally?

     These two things actually occurred at nearly the same time. When I was in the 4th grade, we integrated a school in Florida, which was a foreign thing to me. At this particular school, there were only a few of us who were children of color – myself and my two brothers. You can only imagine the insults that were thrown at us every single day, and there was no punishment for the children, and adults, throwing those insults. I was told that those people in my new school “just need time to get used to this.” 

     Even as a child, I saw right through that. I saw the overt racism for what it was. But from the minute I walked out of the door, to when we got on the bus, to arriving at the school campus during the school day, and finally, taking the bus home–it was constant. One of the worst parts of those experiences was having a teacher say out loud, “You people shouldn’t even be here with us.” To this day, it horrifies me that an adult would say that to a child.  It was unbearable almost to a point, but my parents would sit us down constantly and we would discuss why this was necessary and the better option for our education, and really for our community, in the long-run.

     But the best experience, still at the same school, was my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Cooter.  She was a new PE teacher at the school. I thought she was just beautiful; she had blonde hair and blue eyes. And she was married to a Black man and was treated terribly by her peers because of it. She became an ally and a champion, and my brothers and I knew we could find her at any time of day when we needed support and safety and someone we could trust. She met us at the bus each morning, she walked us to the bus after school, she looked out for us and other students who faced discrimination because of how we looked. 

     We could have just said “no” and gone to a different school, but my parents knew it belonged to us just as much as anyone else. And thanks to the positive influence of great educators, we were able to not just exist but to thrive.


>>>Can you identify an educator (or educators) who provided you with uniquely positive insights into subject matter as well as teaching style? If so, please explain what made them unique.

     

     I had a 6th grade English teacher, who I have since continued to see and keep in touch with as an adult and as an educator myself. Again, I was the only child of color in the classroom. She loved Shakespeare and loved teaching French phrases (even though she spoke them with a Southern accent). In 6th grade, we were learning Shakespeare; we even performed the play, Macbeth. I loved it. I loved the history and the poetry. I memorized every word and I wanted desperately to be in that play. My teacher sat me down and said, “I know you can play Lady Macbeth. But you also know why you can’t play the part.” And I knew what she was referring to. There would be pushback from within my school and throughout our community – there was still segregation and discrimination that impacted these decisions. But she explained why I would be great at playing a different, still important, role. 

     I can still recite lines from Shakespeare. We were reading what high school students were reading and connecting all of the stories of Macbeth and Shakespeare to real life. And as an educator myself down the road, that’s what I did in my own classroom. I connected with students on an individual level, and I excited students about learning and impacts inside and outside of the classroom.

     Then, I had a chemistry and physics teacher (and S.T.E.M. is what I would eventually teach). He was my first teacher of color, and we were the only two people of color in the room. His class was filled with who were thought to be, and were labeled, “advanced” White children, and they very clearly discounted his presence and experience to be teaching at a “high level.” He would set up labs and stay after classes with me to dig deeper into the science. He gave me perspective of how huge the universe is and how small we all are in comparison. This was during the start of the U.S. space program and it evoked a love for science, space and chemistry. 

     We dwell on things that are so absurd in the big picture, but he connected your head with your heart and your hands and taught us how to apply information in many different ways – and those are life lessons you carry with you.  

>>>What inspired your career as a leader in education?

     

     Hands down, what impacted me most were my own experiences, and making sure that people in my presence had a different one. I was determined to make sure my students always felt challenged, and had someone who believed in their ability and gave a sense of belonging. And this is why I became a National Board Certified Teacher and am proud to lead the organization today. Those tenets of teaching are the 5 Core Propositions of NBPTS. It’s about building meaningful relationships. It’s your job to make students feel welcome, challenge them, push them. In order to do that, you have to do that for yourself. And you have to lead by example, even when it may not be comfortable. I was fortunate enough to see that in some of my teachers and in the example my parents set for me and my brothers, and it’s why I do what I do. 

>>>What do you see as the major challenges in education today?

     

     There is no shortage of challenges that educators in this country face, especially right now. People think we’re on different pages or different sides of an issue. Everyone wants an incredible education for their children; a respected, well taught, safe environment with a sense of belonging. But it’s a problem when some people think others don’t deserve that. When we start dividing who deserves what, we have a problem. Truth has to be a part of anything we put in front of children, even if that truth is different from untruths they have been told over the years and causes them to begin to examine real truths for themselves.
     And, teacher recruitment and retention continues to be an issue, especially with the challenges of COVID, but it is one that can be mitigated. Teachers deserve to be respected, provided with the resources they need, fairly compensated and given a seat at the decision-making table. We value and advocate for these things at the National Board, and Board Certified teachers feel better supported and prepared to face the challenges we face. During the pandemic, as we saw the highest educator burnout and turnover in recent memory, NBCTs had higher than average retention rates and felt more prepared.

>>>What can be done to encourage people to go into teaching or other areas of education?

     

    Elevating and respecting the profession; increasing teacher pay to a liveable wage; working conditions that listen to those of us doing the work; ongoing support and professional development; a seat at the table – just to name a few. These are all things that Board Certification addresses and works toward.  If every teacher were a Board Certified teacher, we would solve many of the barriers to entering the profession as well as elevate the profession appropriately. We need the increased and ongoing support of parents, community and our leaders.

>>>What makes you optimistic about education when you look ahead for the next 3-5 years and what concerns you the most over that time period?

     

     The National Board makes me optimistic because there’s nothing stronger than an accomplished teacher. National Board Certification is the most respected professional certification available in education and provides numerous benefits to teachers, students and schools. It was designed to develop, retain and recognize accomplished teachers and to generate ongoing improvement in schools nationwide. We are lifelong learners. We build respect and relationships. And we prepare our students to be good stewards and citizens. 

     A concern is not having access to those educators. It’s taking people too long to figure out that teachers need pay, support, resources, etc. Teachers deal with the most precious capital we have--children. 

>>>What would you consider to be the single most important key to positive transformation of education in the US?

     

     That’s an easy one: full funding for every teacher in America to be Nationally Board Certified! 

Copyright: Chuck Cascio and Peggy Brookins; all rights reserved.

Comments? Please write to chuckwrites@yahoo.com

AND BE SURE TO VISITwww.nbpts.org for more info about the incredible work of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards!!!