Kathleen M. Cashin, Ed.D. (GSE ’78, ’83) was elected this past March to a four-year term on the New York State Board of Regents.
A clinical professor of education at Fordham, Cashin has served New York City students for more than 35 years as a teacher, staff developer, reading consultant and program manager. She was a teacher at Holy Innocents School and Public School 299, as well as the principal at Public School 193 (The Gil Hodges School) for 16 years.
Cashin was named Distinguished Educator of the Year by the New York City Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and more recently, served as CEO of Knowledge Network Learning Support Organization. At Fordham, she teaches graduate students who are studying to become school administrators.
As a regent, she works on policies that affect issues of instruction, including credit accumulation, diplomas and seat time for high school.
“These are weighty and significant issues,” Cashin said. “I function as if the children I am making decisions about were my own children.”
Inside Fordham caught up with her shortly after she was named to the Board of Regents.
You arrived at Fordham in February 2010. Tell us about your experience.
“No matter what your background is, you should always focus on learning. All of the courses that I have taught have taught me a tremendous amount. Fordham is a very welcoming place.”
What have you conveyed to your students who are studying to be school building leaders and administrators?
“I teach them what is necessary for them to succeed: They must have humility, restraint and pervasive instructional focus. I tell them to have an even keel and think 20 steps ahead. If something goes right, don’t be too high or too low. Steady as she goes.
“You really must think 20 steps ahead. You don’t want to be reactive. You want to be planned and strategic. The primary dimension is love of children and realizing the significance of your work. If we don’t succeed as educators, no other profession succeeds. Follow this mantra and chances are you’ll succeed—maybe even big time.”
It’s an uncertain time for educators. In New York City, there’s talk of “last in, first out” layoffs. What advice can you offer?
“Regardless of the public discourse that pushes the idea that ‘anyone can teach,’ teaching is a very, very difficult profession. You have to be highly skilled, know content, be aware of strategy, be a kind person who affirms the child and be very organized. The same is true of the principal.
“Whoever thinks, ‘I’m going to do it for a year,’ is on the wrong boat. The boat we want is longevity, making ourselves scholars and getting better connected with children in an organizationally savvy environment.”
Why did you accept a position on the Board of Regents?
“When I was approached, I thought, ‘This is my life’s work and my life’s work is not over.’ It’s an unpaid position and already I see it’s going to take a lot of time. But I’m honored to serve the children of Brooklyn and New York state. I’m going to do the best I can to be the best regent I can for the children of the state and Brooklyn, in particular.”
What will your priorities be?
“Countries that far exceed us—Finland, Singapore, Japan—have extensive support for their teachers. Their whole model is built around support. They don’t want a teacher to fail. There’s also extreme respect toward teachers.
“My modus operandi is to have tremendous rigor with tremendous respect and tremendous support so that our teachers don’t fail, either. That is an extremely important idea for us to start adopting in this country. We should be asking, ‘What can I do to assist this teacher, because as this teacher goes, so does the child.’
“What can we do to make sure the lesson is great? Do we expand collaborative planning time like other nations do? Do we have continuous professional development? Do we have support services wrapped around the school so that poor children have access to medical and dental care, which can greatly affect their ability to learn?
“We have got to bring back a level of societal respect for the professionof teaching. At the same time, teachers have to exude professionalism. They have to have time to prepare. They have to have time to grow in knowledge. I think that degree of support—coupled with the idea that teaching is the primary profession by which everything else evolves—is what is most lacking.
“If you want to be a lawyer, make sure you have a good education. Want to be a doctor? Make sure you have an education. Similarly, we need a rebirth of the education profession. That applies to teachers as well as principals.”