Spotlight: Brian Quinn (MD '18)March 12, 2019
Brian Quinn (MD ’18) takes every opportunity to join his students on the basketball court, football field or baseball diamond. “You can teach children a lot while playing,” he says. “They don’t even realize they are learning at the same time.” The fourth-grade math teacher won Maryland’s 2018-19 Milken Educator Award at East Silver Spring Elementary on November 2, 2018.
Milken Family Foundation: Physical fitness is a big part of your role at ESS. Why is physical health such an important part of your students’ academic success?
Brian Quinn: In my free time I love to play games. I am in a football league, softball league and kickball league. I am usually in two fantasy football pools each season as well. I feel like you can teach children a lot while playing. I can be silly with them and get them physically active. They don't even realize they are learning at the same time. Kids retain more when they actually do something versus just using paper and pencil or watching someone else do it.
MFF: You’re known to bring out the best in students who lack confidence and enthusiasm. What’s your secret for helping these students blossom?
Brian: I always try to figure out what the students enjoy outside of school. I bring those things into the classroom. I try to make everything into a game so the kids don’t really know they are always learning new concepts. I build relationships with families and email and call home for positive and negative reasons. I like to be able to know the whole child and hold students to high standards so they see for themselves that they can meet these goals and succeed on their own.
MFF: How did you land in education?
Brian: My grandmother talked to me about it when I was in high school. She always told me she thought I would be a good teacher. When I was applying to college I thought I would have a better chance of getting in as a male in the elementary field. Also, a girl I knew when I was in high school was planning to go to Salisbury University. I thought she was beautiful and smart and I thought a great way to talk to her was to take some education classes with her. That plan didn’t work out for me, but the elementary education major was perfect. When I walked into my first student teaching elementary school placement in first grade at Fruitland, I knew this was what I wanted to do with my career.
MFF: What do you like about elementary students?
Brian: They are a lot of fun. They love to play and be silly, and so do I. The complexity of fourth-graders’ lives has increased so much since I have been teaching. They deal with many challenges at home and in life. I try to make school a safe, successful and fun learning environment for them as much as I can. I enjoy watching them grow up and mature and come back to visit when they are in middle school and high school. It may be unique to East Silver Spring, but the older kids are outside at our dismissal time playing basketball or picking up their younger siblings every day. I appreciate the chance to talk to them and shoot some hoops together.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Brian: My first mentor teacher, Ms. Engelman, was one of my favorite role models. She taught second grade and was my mentor when I was a senior in college. I was shocked and impressed at her high expectations for her students. I loved that she planned so well and was so organized. She used technology every day in the classroom. She pushed me to be a better teacher by challenging me to identify students’ weaknesses, collect and analyze data, and then decide what to do next to help them. My college supervisor came to observe me and told me I needed to wear a tie every day. Ms. Engelman’s dad had recently retired and gave me all of his old ties. This showed me how much she cared about me and wanted me to succeed. I aspire to treat my students the way she treated me.
MFF: What stands out from your first year of teaching?
Brian: Ms. Engelman moved grade levels at Fruitland Primary and the principal hired me to take her second-grade position. It was fantastic because Ms. Engelman gave me all her materials—lessons, posters, games and activities—which in turn gave me confidence. I had used some of these materials the prior year, so I was comfortable with many of them. I had six other experienced second-grade teachers on my team who were extremely helpful and knowledgeable. I was the youngest teacher by about 10 years and they all just took me under their wings and supported me. I remain friends with some of those teachers to this day. Many people told me I would cry my first year, but I didn’t cry until my second year!
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Brian: I was actually speechless. I usually have a funny joke to tell or a quick comment to make, but I was very honored and surprised and had no idea I would have even been considered for an award as important as this. I remember being completely stunned. I was embarrassed and didn't know what to do with myself. I was so very nervous when I was called up in front of the entire school. I also would have gotten a haircut first.
MFF: How did your students respond to your Milken Award?
Brian: My current students were thrilled and excited. I had only known them for three months at the time. It was really humbling and made me so proud when all of my previous students made a point to come up to me in the following days and weeks to give me a compliment or a high five and tell me that they were happy for me as well.
MFF: How do you think you’ll use your $25,000 Award?
Brian: My teammates had our current fourth-graders write letters to me with their advice on how to use the money. It was hilarious to read their thoughts letting me know I should buy an expensive pair of sneakers, a video game console, a fancy car or a mansion. Some told me to use it all on candy or get season tickets to the Redskins! I may go on a trip and do a few home improvements, as I recently bought a house. And I plan to save some for future fun.
MFF: How do you define “success” for yourself, and for your students?
Brian: I see myself as successful when I know I taught a good lesson and can tell the kids get it. When I hear them talk about academics using the correct vocabulary without prompting, get upset with a classmate when trying to defend their thinking, and most importantly when they are excited about learning. I see the kids as successful when they do those same things and are kind to others. I hope I can teach them to be nice people above everything else.
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