Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Student Becomes the Teacher Again!

Sarah Tantillo is the author of Hit the Drum: An Insider's Account of How the Charter School Idea Became a National Movement.  

I first met Sarah around 1995 when we were both in the Long Beach Island Elementary School. I was a 5th grade teacher, and Sarah was in my student. If you had told me then that by 2021 she would have four books and be one of the nation's top experts on the charter school movement, I wouldn't have doubted you for a moment. On the other hand, if you had told me that in 2021 she would be teaching me things about my wife of almost 55 years that would give me an even greater appreciation for her, I would ask you what you were smoking, but last night she did just that.

During an interview by Michael Scotto, one of her former students, she was asked to share some insights about how a parent can best support their child in school, and she told a story that hit me like a ton of bricks. Watch this six minute segment and I'll explain. 


If you ask me whether I prefer vanilla or chocolate, I would simply say, "Chocolate."  If you ask my wife the same question, you will likely hear about the first time she tasted a Hershey bar, the time my son put a bowl of vanilla ice cream on his head, her introduction Neapolitan ice cream, and the plot of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Eventually, I would get the answer I was looking for five  minutes earlier. 

After listening to Sarah, I realize that at the same time she was sitting in my 5th grade classroom, Jill had been that mother in the supermarket for five years with our children. While I was teaching Sarah and the other students at LBI, Jill was laying down the educational foundation for our children in ways that I couldn't begin to match.

So after 55 years of marriage, the next time I ask my wife a simple question, instead of getting impatient when she goes on a verbal safari, I will think of Sarah, the woman in the supermarket, two amazing kids, and I will be thankful and grateful for all she has done.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Chuck Brodsky, Holocaust Awareness, and Schools

Normally, the video would come at the end of my blog post, but don't waste your time reading my words until after you watch how Chuck Brodsky helps students at the Pine School in Florida relate to the Holocaust in a unique and powerful way. 

This all started about two months ago, when I wrote about singer/song writer Chuck Brodsky, his thoughtful and reflective music. I explained how the pandemic was keeping him from touring, but how it offered a unique opportunity for schools and creative teachers to tap into a world class talent to provide a learning opportunity that would not be possible save for the pandemic.

Most of his songs are based on true stories that are windows into the human condition. They are insightful observations of life, how it is lived, and how it should be lived. I knew his songs of the Holocaust could help students connect to history in a way that no text book could ever do. I knew that if I wasn't retired, I would be looking for ways to connect Chuck with my students and give them life lessons and experiences in history, story telling, and writing in ways that could never be done through text books. 

My days in the classroom ended more than a decade ago, but my connections to schools and the like minded teachers I had worked over the years were still at it. After reaching out to Chuck with my thoughts about how his music could inspire students and offered to help connect him with schools and he took me up on my offer.

In the beginning of February, I reached out to my friend Karlheinz Haas, who was the Educational Technology Curriculum Director at Southern Regional, where I was teaching and consulting in the 90's. He's now at the Pine School in Florida where 8th grade teacher, Kim Yaris, conducts an annual Holocaust unit. 

The class had already read Eli Wiesel's "Night", done research, and had a visit from a classmate's father who was a Holocaust survivor. Kim's unit was based in story telling and after some planning it was decided that Chuck would could first conduct a Zoom concert, and perform some of his songs, tell their back stories, and answer questions as a way of leading the students into their culminating projects. Then about two weeks later he again once again met with the class for more in depth interviews about his life, his writing process, and to provide commentary and suggestions on their projects. It was one of the three most significant educational experiences of my 40+ years in education.

I documented the project and here's a 30 minute compilation of the activities. If you would like to connect Chuck before the pandemic begins to ease up and he resumes touring, you can reach him at .

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Chuck Brodsky, the Holocaust, Civil Rights, and Songs of Hope and Inspiration

If you are reading this, it is probably because we are Facebook friends and I personally asked you to come here. It's also very likely you are a teacher and we met because of our involvement with the Internet and school change. 

I have invited you here to meet Chuck Brodsky, who I met about 20 years ago. I'm hoping he can touch and enrich you life and possibly the lives of your students, the way he has mine. I know his songs, stories, and insights into the human condition will touch your hearts and I'm hoping they might fit in your classroom or curriculum.

I hope you will take the time to explore the links here and figure out ways to use his gift to reach the hearts and minds of your students in creative and powerful ways that can't be done with the simple written word alone.

I first met Chuck around the turn of the century shortly after Pandora launched and I set up a folk channel. The first song I heard was, Radio, the story of a football coach, in Anderson, South Carolina, and a kid they called Radio. That prompted me to buy the CD and after listening to it, the possibilities for use in the classroom excited me. One thing led to another. I went to see him perform, spoke with him after the show, and began planning a cross-curricular project for the students in our high school, but I digress. Here's Chuck singing Radio.

We are in the middle of a pandemic (stated Captain Obvious), and teachers are scrambling to create engaging online lessons. Musicians, such as Chuck, who make their living performing live are in much the same boat. To make ends meet, Chuck is doing Facebook and YouTube live concerts, the concerts are free and Chuck asks that you tip as you see fit. He also has all of his songs available to download, and I've been introducing him to educators who can tap into the richness of his songs and stories. 

I'm willing to bet that many, if not most of you will become Chuck Brodsky fans, and I hope you will use his songs in your classes. If you do you can support him in many ways.  Simply paying $1 to download one of his songs from Band Camp  would help, but I'm betting some of you have the wheels turning about a Zoom concert.

You could spend the next week listening to his songs just to figure out which ones might suit your curriculum, but I know you don't have that kind of time.  However, I do, and I know half of his songs by heart. There are at least two dozen songs that would overlap in a number of places and cover topics such as the holocaust, civil rights, values, immigration and more, including the division in our country today.

I've put together a short description of at least two-dozen songs on the topics listed above, along with links to them. If you are interested saving yourself hours of work locating the right songs for you and getting a copy of the list, or have any questions about the education potential, feel free to email me at

Oh, and by the way, if you are thinking about songs that will excite your class about song writing or poetry, there a few dozen more that would fit the bill.  

If there is a silver lining in this Covid-19 cloud, it is that you have an opportunity to bring a world class talent into your classroom via Zoom at a school budget price. If you're interested in having Chuck work with you students, you can contact him directly at

Stay safe! Stay healthy! Stay sane!