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In Memory of Brig Owens: Football Legend and So Much More

IN MEMORY OF BRIG OWENS—

An Outstanding Football Player and So Much More

By

Chuck Cascio

     Fifty years ago, a 25-year-old freelance writer and would-be-author heard of a summer camp that was being sponsored and run by some members of the then-called Washington Redskins football team. The camp was designed to help needy kids, mainly from inner-city areas, have a brief but significant experience outside of their city in a semi-rural setting. The youths would spend several days and nights together under the supervision of a few dedicated members of the Washington football team. The purpose of the camp was not just to teach football—though informal instruction was part of each day—but also to give the kids the chance to experience and enjoy a different taste of life, something far removed from the heated sidewalks of the city. 

      Brig Owens was the player who most aggressively recruited kids to attend the camp and he was determined to make the camp meaningful in many ways to all of them. And I was the aspiring, nobody freelancer who wrote the story thanks to Brig accepting my request to spend a day at the camp.

     Brig’s death on June 21, 2022 at the age of 79 hit me hard, but much more important is the fact that his passing serves as reminder of all the good that can be done by one person who commits his life to helping others. 

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     For Brig, my feature story provided publicity and possible additional funding for a camp that helped thousands of kids over the years. For me, it was a step toward recognition as a young reporter. For us both, it was the start of a friendship that led to a book entitled Over the Hill to the Super Bowl that we co-wrote based on Brig’s diary of the 1972 Washington football season, the first year the Washington team ever went to the Super Bowl. That friendship lasted throughout the 50 years that have passed, and it also led to a book that will be released this fall by Temple University Press. The book, written by the late Ed Garvey who served as executive director of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) from 1971-1983, details how Brig, who earned his law degree after retiring from football in 1977, and other players committed themselves to developing the strength of the NFLPA. Brig used his experience and expertise to raise the level of pay, benefits, and ultimately respect for athletes who too often in the 1970s and ’80s and were taken for granted and treated unfairly.

     Brig’s name and his jersey number, 23, are featured on a wall of Fedex Field, the now Washington Commanders home turf, and Brig was inducted into the Washington Ring of Fame for his outstanding career as strong safety with 36 career interceptions and countless key plays. Sure, I will remember him for his on-field intelligence, speed, toughness and game-changing plays. But I will also remember him for his willingness to work with me over the years, and for his determination to improve his own life, the lives of his wife and two daughters, the lives of fellow athletes, and the lives of countless others.

     Brig Owens remains an example of the value of positive commitment. He was an outstanding quarterback, punter, and placekicker for the University of Cincinnati, where he was inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame. But at a time when Black players were not viewed as prospective professional quarterback prospects regardless of their outstanding collegiate accomplishments, Brig was moved to the position of safety in 1965 when he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, who placed him on the taxi squad and then traded him to Washington. Not one of the greatest moves by the Cowboys, to say the least!

     When writing our book Over the Hill to the Super Bowl in 1972, Brig would occasionally stop by my home to drop off the secretly-recorded audiotapes he was making on which he detailed the team’s practices and preparations for games. He always played with my two-year-old son, Marc, who knew he was in the midst of a guy who actually played pro football on TV! My younger son, Ross, came to know of Brig a couple of years later as Brig's accomplishments continued to accumulate.

     At other times, I would drive to Redskins Park, located at the time in Herndon, VA, and park at the far end of the lot so Brig could drop his audiotapes off to me without anyone noticing. When the book was published after the season following the close Super Bowl loss to the undefeated Miami Dolphins, Brig did not back away from interviews. There was concern among some in the press and some players that Washington coach George Allen would be upset over the secretly published content. However, Brig viewed it as his personal right to have the book published and given Brig’s character and, of course, his on-field skills, Allen never openly challenged the book’s publication.

     Brig’s belief in players’ personal rights was evident in his involvement as a player representative to the NFLPA and then as assistant executive director of that organization. He was a leader in the fight for players’ salaries, pensions, and other benefits. For football players, there will always be a debt owed to Brig and to others who believe in equal rights on and off the field. 

     Brig was not a man driven by a quest for personal recognition. First and foremost, Brig was a man who saw that through his position, intellect, and personal drive, he could contribute to the benefit of others. So that is what he did. And that will be Brig Owens’ lasting legacy.

Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

Reach me at chuckwrites@yahoo.com; @ChuckCascio on Twitter; Chuck Cascio on Facebook.

 

 

Transforming Education: Tenth in a series

TRANSFORMING EDUCATION TODAY
(Tenth in a Series of Interviews with Education Leaders)
Featuring Hollee Freeman,

Education Reform Innovator

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 their own 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 pleased to present as the tenth interview in this series the views of dynamic education reform innovator Hollee Freeman, whose profile follows:

     Hollee Freeman, PhD, is a career educator specializing in Science Technology Education and Mathematics (STEM), equity, and educational access. Hollee is the Executive Director of the MathScience Innovation Center in Richmond, VA, where she combines her love of STEM content with curriculum development and hands-on programming for students and adults. 

     Hollee owns and operates Freeman Educational & Business Consulting where she provides writing services for individuals and businesses. She also conducts creative writing classes, book studies, and more. Hollee has authored numerous professional book chapters and articles focused on educational reform, teaching, gender equity and STEM. Hollee is a self-published author of a children’s book entitled Muddy Ballerinas (available in English and Spanish). Her just-published books, Muddy Ballerinas and the Big Bowling Party and Beekeeping Besties--An Apiary Adventure, are available on Amazon and at https://holleefreeman.com

     A hobbyist photographer who specializes in nature-based images, Hollee has shared her photography in art shows and cafes including: The Nutty Buttery Café, ArtWorks, Rigby's Jig, and The Broad.  Hollee is also a beekeeper, cyclist, and voracious reader. She dances with Claves Unidos and volunteers on several the community boards of several organizations including ArtSpace, Bridge Park, The Richmond Public Library, and The Innerwork Center.

     You can learn more about Hollee by watching her TEDx talk (https://youtu.be/ZEi03HojVi8) and by visiting her website https://holleefreeman.com/.

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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?

     I remember spending a lot of time on my grandparents’ farm in Prince George, Virginia. I really came to

know the value of farming but also the value of environmental education and nature. I learned how to make

things grow and how to take care of flowers, fruit, vegetables, and animals. I learned to look closely at weather

 patterns, temperature and goings-on in nature.

      I have carried this love of science and math and a deep connection to nature with me for my whole life. I also vividly remember fishing, doing artwork, and making wallets and belts out of leather.  These experiences all contributed to my love of learning and creating, and I work hard to create spaces for students to have similar experiences as well. 

     When I was in high school, I really learned the value of being a leader and engaging in independent and self-sustaining learning experiences. I'll never forget doing research for a class on African-American poets; my teacher accepted my proposal and developed a full-fledged class that was added to our repertoire! 

     As a high school student, I also took classes at the Math & Science Center, where I am now the Executive Director. These classes were built on a deep exploration of math and science ideas and learning in community (our own Math & Science community and the community at large). The classes had a deep and profound impact on the kind of educator that I am to this day. 

     The only difficult learning experience that I had during my formal educational experience was when I went to Columbia University. Coming from a very progressive high school and simply seeing the university’s architecture (Lowe Library in particular, filled with names of authors of the so-called great works) on the frieze was enough to throw me into full-blown imposter syndrome. I knew how to learn but I did not enter Columbia with the requisite knowledge that many other students had in high school regarding the "great works" as well as how to navigate a hierarchical way of working and being.  I made my way through close friendships, tutoring to “catch up” and independent learning, but it wasn’t until I started my Masters degree at Bank Street (and doctorate at Boston College) that I really felt like my learning style and way of working was valued again. 

     I continue to be a learner and engage in activities where I learn something new and also where I can create space for students and adults to explore their connection to the world, to each other, and to themselves. 

>>>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.

     Fortunately, I started interning at the Columbia Greenhouse Nursery School and then was offered my first teaching job by Julie Diamond at the Westside Community School (a progressive school within a school in NYC). These experiences on-boarded me to the academic (and more technical) aspect of the learning style and philosophy that I learned with my dad and in other earlier learning experiences. 

      I remember sitting down and going over my curriculum unit with Leslie Alexander, Director of the Muscota New School (NYC) where I worked as an elementary classroom teacher. While talking about my ideas for my science curriculum, she continued to ask me questions about reading, art, music, culture, etc. that I could incorporate. This conversation gave me pause and made me think more deeply about making cross-curricular connections for myself and for students. 

     While at Muscota, I was part of the North Dakota Study Group and the Prospect Center for Education and Research. These experiences provided a diversity of thought around educational issues and also demanded that we observe student work closely and to work from an asset model rather than a deficit model of understanding students, what they think and how they orient themselves to learning. 

     I have had a whole lineup of amazing educators who have been role models, mentors and colleagues. I have worked at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the Technical Education Research Center, the Boston Teacher Residency, and consulted/led learning experiences in public, private, rural, suburban and urban schools across the United States. Each of these experiences added more specific and unique tools to my toolbox while affirming my role and stance as a progressive educator. 

>>>Identify a couple of accomplishments that you and/or members of your school and/or organization achieved that you feel have had a lasting impact on education.

     When I was preparing for an interview with the Math/Science Innovation Center, I decided to call the organization to see if I could get a tour. I did not share that I was an interviewee. I simply asked if I could have a tour to get a better idea of the programming and space. I was told that a tour was not possible since I was not a member of the consortium. So I elected to drive by a few times to take a look (from the outside) at how and who was using the space. 

     I was awarded the job as Executive Director a few weeks later, and I vowed to myself and the Governing Board that the conversation I had about a tour would never happen again for ANY member of the community—not the consortium, but the community because I believed that this regional STEM center should be open and available to all. 

     During my 10-year tenure at the Math/Science Innovation Center, the team and I increased the number of Black and Latino students who had access to the programming and other (vast) resources that the Center offers. We created satellite centers in communities that were further away in order to mitigate the issue of transportation to put STEM programming in their own neighborhoods. This included libraries and schools. We created programming delivered in Spanish and partnered with HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) to create a pipeline of STEM students in undergraduate education and careers.  We partnered with Career and Technical Education Centers, NASCAR, and other organizations to create a space for learning that did not necessarily explicitly exist for all students in the region. 

     To do this work required developing trusted partnerships and raising capital. I was hard at work on a grant to provide access for 200 K-12 students in an under-resourced town in Central Virginia to participate in our summer programs held at a local community college. When I was notified of the grant award, I rushed to my secret spot (my bathroom) and cried. I was so overwhelmed with joy that these Black, Indigenous, and People of Color(BIPOC) students, in particular, would have access to robust, engaging STEM programming, where they otherwise would not. 

     During the program, I remember seeing a White student from a rural town and a Black student from the city lying on the floor, side-by-side working on a rocket project. It was not just the project that stopped me in my tracks but the fact that they were talking about lots of other topics as well. I thought to myself, were it not for this program, right here at this time, these students, and other students like them, might never have met. Furthermore, they would not have had an opportunity to get to know each other. As we talk about multicultural, multi-talented teams in the workplace, experiences like this will get us there and make our products better, our work places better, our humanity stronger. 

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

     I see the major challenge in education today as being the extreme dichotomy that communities have regarding access to educational resources. This dichotomy has always existed. However, the issue has been made more clear with the onset of the pandemic when we saw which families had the resources to mobilize learning pods for their neighborhoods and which families did not. Consequently, this severe difference in educational access to resources has also shown the very present through-line concerning the connection between chasms in technology access, use of time, health and wellness, transportation and workforce issues, to name a few. 
>>>
Has the remote learning that started as a result of the pandemic become entrenched as a new direction that education will take and, if so, could it have a positive impact?

     I’m not convinced that remote learning will become entrenched as a new direction for education. Remote learning may be more readily offered post-pandemic, but I hesitate to say that it will be a long-term, viable modus operandi for K-8 education. While, I know that remote learning provides a type of ease for some students who perform better and are more comfortable using remote learning platforms, it leaves many students in an untenable situation. 

     A large part of schooling is socialization. That is greatly diminished through remote learning. In my own experience teaching remotely, there is a different (and for me, unwelcomed) part of teaching in which you are interacting with blank or black squares rather than students' own faces. Moreover, even when all students are “video-on,” the level of interaction is stunted. It is more difficult to use body language to convey information and working in cooperative groups just isn’t the same. Technically, remote learning allows instructors and teachers to convey information but the adaptive portion of teaching is not (and cannot be) built into remote learning platforms. 

     All of this is to say that, yes, remote learning has provided positive impact and outcomes for some students. However, many students have been negatively impacted given the lack of in-person support that instructors and other faculty in schools provide. I think that most teachers and students want to return to in-person schooling. I, for one, do so as well. 

Copyright: Chuck Cascio and Hollee Freeman; all rights reserved

Your thoughts are always welcome; please send to chuckwrites@yahoo.com

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!!!

Transforming Education: Eighth in a series


TRANSFORMING EDUCATION TODAY
(Eighth in a Series of Interviews with Education Leaders)
Featuring Marc Cascio

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 their own 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 pleased to present as the eighth interview in this series the views of Marc Cascio, my son whose extensive career in education has included a number of key roles that have provided him with unique insights. Marc's profile follows:

 My son Marc Cascio has worked for Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools, the same system in which he was educated, for nearly 30 years, beginning as an Instructional Assistant in the Prescriptive Learning Program that brought problematic students together with students who weren’t proficient with the English language. His second role in the classroom came the following year when, at 22 years old, he worked as an Instructional Assistant with a teacher whom he describes as "a caring, competent professional." Marc then took a position in the Safety and Security Office of the same school, spending the next five years in that role, a “job that provided a deep understanding of what goes on behind the scenes of a typical American high school." 

Marc completed his Masters Degree in education at night and then student-taught at the same school where he had been working. Of his student-teaching experience, he says, "I couldn’t have had a better mentor teacher; he was very complimentary to me, while simultaneously helping me straighten out some of the rougher edges of my teaching style." In the middle of the school year, Marc was hired at another school as a full-time faculty member to replace two teachers, one who had died and another who had resigned, beginning his novice instructional career with over five ninth grade English classes. After several years, he moved to a school that he calls "pretty much one of the crown jewels of the county as far as educational achievement and affluence go." He continues to teach there, a school he says he loves. 

Over the course of his dynamic career, Marc has taught every level of ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade English; AP English Language and Composition; English for Secondary Language Learners; and Speech and Debate in addition to coaching high school boys JV soccer, boys varsity soccer, girls varsity soccer, and JV and varsity wrestling. As Marc says in reflecting upon his career, "While I wouldn’t say I am a leader, I can definitely say that I know the educational landscape of high schools very, very well!"

Help spread the word: #TransformEducation

 

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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?

 

I think I had a relatively uncommon experience growing up and going through the school years. Even though I probably never lived more than ten miles away from where I was born, I somehow managed to go to six different schools before graduating from high school. I started my elementary school going to what would be considered a low-income school. Although some of the experiences there only remain in my memory because of the violence (one day a boy in my first grade class physically fought the principal--and he gave him a pretty good battle!), I remain grateful to a teacher there named Mrs. Berger who diagnosed me with an issue that looked and sounded a lot like dyslexia. I recall being pulled out of regular classes and having to go to this thing called SULA (an acronym for “Step Up Language Arts”) and went on to become an English major, an English teacher, and a freelance writer who has sold plenty of articles. 

That was a LONG time ago (I am 51 now!), but it introduced a constant in the education I received throughout my elementary, middle, and high school years: I wasn’t all that interested in most subjects, as painful as that is to admit, BUT when I had teachers who I really wanted to impress and who I felt really cared about me individually, I would want to please them. The impact of personality had a great deal to do with what kind of effort I put out. So, as a teacher now, I try to be friendly, outgoing, and understanding. That probably means that kids pull the wool over my eyes sometimes, but I would still rather be the way I am than a stodgy “Sage on a Stage.” Life is too short for that, and you don’t get to maintain the relationships with students if you act that way. 

As a teacher for nearly three decades now, I have to also say that my earliest elementary experience was valuable to me in that it taught me how important school leadership was. I have worked at some very rough schools and some very tame and affluent ones, and kids are kids. If a potentially bad environment is managed by an astute, dedicated, and conscientious administrative team, the teachers are happy and so are the students. The micromanagers and/or the ones who just feel their fingerprints have to be on everything can turn even the most functional schools into a hot mess. 

>>>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 could do this with several, but I am going to pick one whom I remember very well and whose class I loved to attend. The teacher’s name was Beryl Bolton, and I had her for a Sociology class that was an elective. Mrs. Bolton was amazing: she was energetic, she laughed constantly, and she was remarkably adept at presenting really complex issues in a manner that made us examine them from all sides. We had quite a mix of personalities in that class including some kids who were problematic for other teachers, but nobody wanted to make Mrs. B. angry. I still have friendships with people I hadn’t previously met until meeting them in that class 35 years ago! 

>>>Has the remote learning that started as a result of the pandemic become entrenched as a new direction that education will take and, if so, could it have a positive impact?

The pandemic break was awesome for me because it gave me the chance to learn technology that I never would have learned had it not occurred. I hate to admit it, but I was content with the way I was doing things because I had always done them “that way” and my perception was that it would take a Herculean effort to teach this old dog new tricks. Man, was I wrong! Educational technology is probably the one aspect of education that I can say has evolved appropriately with the times. Real time surveys, instantly observable answers from myriad students, and the utter joy of self-grading tests have made lessons so much more engaging and has taken some of the strain off of teachers as far as grading goes. 

I think every teacher I know would say that creating lessons is more fun than it ever has been and when you are having fun, it doesn’t seem like work. I love watching students really engage in lessons, and technology is an inexorable part of that. Plus, we all HAD to learn it just to survive, and it turned out to be a hell of a lot easier than I thought it was going to be! 

>>>Do you think the holistic method of student evaluation that seems to be taking hold is as effective as the more traditional, categorical evaluation that used to be the norm? Please explain why or why not.

Yes! I hope someday grades are just gone and we teach kids using benchmarks or something similar. As it is, the grading scale in my county has become all but useless. The scale is now 50-100. There are so many problems with that that I can’t even begin to detail them because they all dovetail into each other. 

I would love to see students learn through action! Let’s say we give students a murder mystery: You could include physics in by looking at blood spatter (gross, I know), you could teach biology through DNA evidence, you could get English in by creating faux press releases, etc. 

Three in five kids are obese in America and seventy percent are considered sedentary based on data supplied by students themselves, but what do we do with them at school? We plunk them into chairs in the same manner kids were treated in the 1800s. Is there any wonder we see so many ADD and ADHD issues? There are better ways to learn, better ways to create productive students, and better ways to assess students than what we have. Just take a look at how creative companies like Pixar run their businesses—if you do, you will wonder why we are so archaic in our teaching and assessing methodologies. 

>>>Are standardized testing and traditional roles to teaching and evaluating in need of transformation and, if so, what should they look like?

Yep. They should be bailed on, and we should start anew. The first thing that should happen is that we should invest money in ways that benefit all students. People hate it when I say this, and even my own dad (LOL) somewhat disagrees with me, but I feel we should get rid of high school sports (and remember, I was a coach!) for several reasons: 

1. With the surging importance of club sports, many high school sports have ceased being an avenue to collegiate athletics. Many high level athletes view high school sports as being “just for fun” which further emphasizes how unfair it is that they are funded by the entire tax base.

2. High school sports are funded by all taxpayers, but only those whose children make teams enjoy the benefits of them. 

3. They also use funds that could be applied elsewhere. 

Instead, I believe with the funds saved by eliminating high school sports, every school could be given top-notch exercise equipment with enough variety to meet the needs of every student. In that manner, the taxpayers’ money would benefit all students and the undeniable link between physical activity and academic achievement would be addressed much more efficiently. For example, the athletic fields could be changed into agricultural fields, and kids could learn nutrition, math, biology, horticulture, botany etc., while creating farm-to-table food situations for the schools. 

There are so many ways to do things better—all we need to do is to admit that what we are doing is antediluvian and look for realistic ways to change things for the better. 

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

 

As much as I have enjoyed my career I am reluctant to recommend it to anyone. I have three children, and the financial strain of affording a family on a teacher’s salary can be taxing on every aspect of life. In my nearly thirty years as a teacher, I have never worked just one job. I have always had to supplement my income, and even then my family and I have never been on a vacation for just the five of us. By the time we pay for everything we need to pay for, there just isn’t enough money left to take a vacation.  The only way to entice people into this profession is to pay them more. 

People SAY they value teachers, but recently in my county a restaurant tax was proposed and the revenue was supposed to bolster teachers’ salaries. The tax was voted down. It seems that saving a few dollars while going out to eat was more important to the majority than keeping quality people in education. What does that tell you? 

>>>Looking first at K-12 and then at higher education, name at least three things that you hope will occur within the next two years to help strengthen them.

Get rid of standardized tests, update assessment methods, and begin having REAL conversations about how to make U.S. education better. 

Copyright: Chuck Cascio and Marc Cascio; all rights reserved.

Comments? Please write to chuckwrites@yahoo.com

 

Transforming Education: Seventh in a series


TRANSFORMING EDUCATION TODAY
(Seventh in a Series of Interviews with Education Leaders)
Featuring Wendell Byrd


 

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 their own 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 pleased to present as the seventh interview in this series the views of Wendell Byrd, former elementary school teacher, coach, and education entrepreneur who has dedicated his career to all aspects of education. Wendell's profile appears below:

 

Wendell Byrd, a renowned teacher for 31 years at Hutchison Elementary School in Herndon, VA, in 2003 founded the non-profit Readers Are Leaders, a program that trains high school athletes to tutor elementary school students in reading. The program's goal is to "promote growth for both our student-athletes and our young readers" and the statistics it has achieved in improving student reading skills are truly impressive. As head basketball coach at South Lakes High School in Reston, VA, Wendell amassed more than 450 victories, nine district championships, and six regional championships. Wendell continues to apply his coaching and teaching skills to his Readers Are Leaders program. For more information about Reader Are Leaders, and to make a donation, go to https://www.readersareleadersnonprofit.org.

Help spread the word: #TransformEducation

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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?

My most positive influences as a student would be two people, one in elementary school and one in high school: 

In 1964, schools in the City of Falls Church, VA, became integrated.  I attended Madison Elementary for fifth and sixth grades (one of five Black students in the school).  At the end of fifth grade I was named co-captain of the patrols. During those times each school would send their captain(s) to a patrol camp for developing young leaders. Mr. Chuck Koryda, our principal, provided all of the paperwork to share and to be signed by our parents (the camp was held in southern Maryland). After returning the paperwork a few weeks later, Mr. Koryda called me down to his office and said, “There is a problem with camp--I was told that they will not allow Black students to attend.”  He followed up with, “So I will find a camp were you and Larry (the other co-captain) can attend together.”  

We sat there a while talking about how important it is to see people for who they are, not by what they look like. I learned a lot from Chuck Kordya in my two years at Madison, encouraging me to be the best. And, believe it or not, Chuck Koryda became my principal at Hutchison Elementary in Herndon, VA, for a few years where I taught for 31 years!

Second of the positive influences would be Bernie Bronstein, a teacher in 1966 at George Mason High School, also in Falls Church, VA.  Bernie and I made a connection the first day we met.  He was the true definition of a mentor – a person that teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced younger person. I was lucky to have Bernie in my life to share so many life lessons with me.  Our relationship continued to grow throughout high school and college, and he remains a life-long friend.

When I became a teacher/coach I was determined to always be the best example and provide the needed support to all of the students that I came into contact with.

>>>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 was very fortunate to work with many outstanding educators.  In 1975, I started my career in teaching at Hutchison Elementary in Herndon, VA.  It was a brand new school and the principal was unique in staffing—half the staff were women and half were men.  I was teamed with a veteran teacher, Kay Bean, and she became a mentor and friend.  In education, teaching styles and strategies come and go (the vicious circle).  Good educators like Kay, would take the good out of all of the styles and strategies and provide their classrooms with the best learning situation. 

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

Being surrounded by strong educators who were in the profession with the main goal of supporting all students.

>>>Who should have the final say in what is taught in schools?

Final say has to come from elected leaders who should have a heartbeat of what is going on in their district.  That is why voting for representatives who meet your needs is essential.  Your School Board should be listening to administration, teachers, parents and, really, their community as a whole.  They are elected to make the best overall decisions for everyone. 

>>>Should high school and college students be encouraged to participate in internships to help enrich their learning? If so, what can be done to stimulate this participation?  

Yes, I agree that high school and college students should be encouraged to participate in internships to help open their eyes to a great profession. High schools should promote “Teaching Clubs” and provide opportunities for those students to intern under strong professionals who will endorse the educational field (and not just have them grade papers!).  

 Copyright: Chuck Cascio and Wendell Byrd, all rights reserved.