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Teacher to retire after 50 years in education
Mervin Brown Sr., 76, has taught in area schools for 50 years. In what began as a temporary job until he could work for the federal government, Brown has made a mark with local students and fellow educators. Brown will retire June 30. “I tried to operate from a positive attitude,” Brown said of his approach to teaching. “It’s my nature to smile a lot; be soft spoken, for the most part; encourage them; in general, accent the positive.” (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer
What Mervin Brown Sr. thought was a temporary decision led to half-century-long career in education.
Fifty years ago, Brown applied for a job as a research mathematician at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
He had not heard whether he landed the job when Martinsville Schools Superintendent John Richmond offered him a job as a math teacher at Albert Harris High School. Richmond said the school job was a sure thing, so Brown took it.
A few weeks later that summer, Brown was offered a job at the proving ground, but he declined it because he had signed the teaching contract. He decided he would teach for a year and possibly then start working for the federal government. The government told him it would try to find a position for him at that time.
But Brown enjoyed his first year of teaching at Albert Harris, and he liked that he could be near his aging parents, Joseph and Bessie Brown. He never again attempted to get a job with the federal government.
Brown officially will retire from Henry County Schools June 30. He has worked for that school division the last 38 years of his 50-year career as an educator.
Brown, 76, of Laurel Park, said he could have retired earlier, but, “I enjoyed what I was doing. I felt I was making a contribution to young people. My health was good, and I decided to continue.”
After graduating from Virginia State University with a bachelor’s degree in math and physics, he taught three years for Martinsville City Schools and then nine years with the Pittsylvania County school division before working for Henry County Schools.
He taught Algebra 1 and 2 at Albert Harris High School from 1963-66. He taught math and was assistant principal from 1966-75 at Southside High School, which became Blairs Junior High during his tenure there.
Brown joined the Henry County Schools in 1975. He taught math and/or science at Drewry Mason, Laurel Park and Bassett high schools, a number of years having a split schedule in which he served more than one school, according to Brown and Linda Dorr, assistant superintendent for human resources and student services for Henry County Schools. For the last several years, he was a science teacher at Bassett High School.
He also taught a number of years at the county and city school divisions’ joint summer school, he said.
Tiffiny Martin, an assistant principal of Bassett High School, has a unique perspective of Brown, whom she has known as her teacher and later as his supervisor.
As a student of Brown’s, she was impressed with his knowledge of physics and his teaching style, she said. He had an “excellent rapport” with students, made them feel “really comfortable,” was approachable, was easy to get along with, was funny, encouraged questions and obviously cared about students.
“I knew he wanted me to do well in his class,” Martin said, adding that she had and has much respect for him.
When she became assistant principal at Bassett in 2007, she was nervous at first when it was time for her to evaluate Brown, but “he never made me feel awkward. He welcomed me. He treated me with respect,” she said.
Among his strengths as a teacher, Martin said, is that he “always made physics applicable to real life.” Educators call that “relevance,” she added.
About every year recently, she said, it seems that one of Bassett’s top academic students designates Brown as the student’s most influential teacher as part of the school division’s banquet recognizing top seniors for their academic achievements. Brown confirmed that has happened four times in the last five years.
He said he especially enjoys helping students when, through their own efforts, they come to master difficult concepts. He said he always encourages students to ask questions, even if he’s already been over the topic several times. He tells them, “We’re not in a hurry, but we’ll get there on time.”
“I tried to operate from a positive attitude,” Brown said of his approach to teaching. “It’s my nature to smile a lot; be soft spoken, for the most part; encourage them; in general, accent the positive.”
The encouragement he offered sometimes went beyond the classroom. When Henry County and Martinsville lost industries, “that had an effect on students and members of their families,” and Brown tried to encourage them, he said.
The economy is only one of the changes Brown has seen during his 50 years in education. He has seen school consolidations, the implementation of block scheduling (four periods a day instead of six) and Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs). He said he thinks school consolidations resulted in larger schools with more course offerings, but some students had to leave their home communities.
He said block scheduling reduced the need for some students to go to summer school because they could earn the credits they needed during the regular school year. He said he thinks SOLs, for the most part, have been beneficial, raising the bar for academic achievement and providing more uniformity in what is taught in schools.
Among the other memorable events Brown recalled were:
• The assassination of President John Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. “Students became highly upset. It was close to the end of the (school) day. It seemed like a dark day when I left school that day,” he said.
• He went back to school to stay in touch with the latest innovations in education. His biographical sheet shows he received a master’s degree in math from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, completed additional graduate studies in physics at the University of Virginia, and recently completed studies from the University of Phoenix in history.
• For more than 20 years, in addition to teaching, he worked at Fieldcrest Cannon Mills. He held such positions as a bagging job (he asked for a hands-on job at first), training coordinator and shift foreman in the sewing department on second shift.
• For about 30 years, Brown tutored people in his home (not his public school students), mostly high school and college students, but also workers trying to get promotions.
During retirement, he said, “I might do some writing. I’m sort of a history buff.” He said he might write about the community in which he grew up (in Axton on the western edge of Pittsylvania County) “and changes that have transpired,” or about teaching math and science in public schools.
He also plans to stay involved in his academic fraternities and church activities. He is a member of Sharon Grove Baptist Church, where he is a deacon and chairman of the budget committee. He serves as auditor for the Smith River Baptist Association.
“I’ll miss my students. I’ll miss my co-workers. I’ll miss the parents,” Brown said of retirement.
His wife of almost 55 years, Annette, retired as a teacher assistant for Martinsville City Schools last year. They have two children, Jewell B. Millner (James II) and Mervin L. Brown Jr. (Carolyn), and two grandsons. Their son is Staunton District manager for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.
Bassett High School teacher LaDonna Varner said in an email: “He has been an inspiration to all because of his intellect and untiring positive attitude to all who meet him. Bassett High School honored him Tuesday, May 28, at our end-of-year staff luncheon. Each department honored him with something that celebrated his love of science and the number 50 (for his years of service). Gifts included a star named after him, a scrapbook of letters from former students, 50 of his favorite drinks (Mt. Dew).”
“Imagine how many lives he has impacted,” Dorr said. “I applaud him.”