Mark Geiger: The High School Math Teacher with International Acclaim as a Soccer Referee

There are many examples of talented educators who have also logged impressive accomplishments in athletic arenas. Such is certainly the case with Mark Geiger, a former high school math teacher who now serves as a referee for Major League Soccer in both the United States and Canada.

imagesMark was born on August 25, 1974, in Beachwood, New Jersey. After graduating from Trenton State College, Mark taught advanced placement math at Lacey Townships High School in Lanoka Harbor, Ocean County, New Jersey. In 2009, this remarkable educator was one of 103 teachers who received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. The prestigious award is given annually to the best elementary and secondary science and mathematics teachers from across the country. The winners were selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following a state-level selection process.

Mark earned his National Referee badge in 2003 while still teaching. He began his career as a part-time MLS referee a year later. In 2008, Geiger was added to U.S. Soccer’s International Panel of Referees, making him eligible for higher-profile international matches and requiring more travel. When he was offered a full-time, salaried position with the Professional Referee Organization, he reluctantly decided to retire from teaching. He wanted to referee international matches, and he was aware of FIFA’s preference for officials with full-time referee jobs.

Mark confesses that his experiences as a teacher has made a significant contribution to his success as a soccer referee. He once commented that math is about quantity, structure, space, and change, and that is also true of  the dynamics on the soccer field. He also remarked that maintaining order and clarity in a classroom of gifted, confident students is not that different from fairly governing the lightning-fast interplay of 22 of the world’s most gifted and talented soccer players. “When I was in the classroom, it was 25 or 30 students each with a different learning style,” he has said. “On the soccer field you have 22 different players, each with different personalities. So it’s about recognizing what’s going to work with a particular player and then implementing that.” He added, “The situations that are in the grey areas, preventing players from taking that next step, communicating with them, managing them, working with them” is what a good referee brings to the game. Sounds a lot like great teaching.

Mark is recognized as one of the best professional soccer referees in the business. He has worked the  Olympics games in 2012 and four matches during the U-20 World Cup finals in Colombia, which culminated in his officiating the championship game. The U-20 final marked the first time an American official refereed a major FIFA men’s tournament championship. Mark has also been to Morocco for FIFA’s Club World Cup, and he worked the fifth-place match between the Egyptian and the Mexican club. Later Mark served as the fourth official at the championship game. For his outstanding work as a referee, Mark was selected the Major League Soccer Referee of the Year in both 2011 and 2014.

Mark Geiger: a true chalkboard champion.

Rich Franklin: The Multi-Talented Math Teacher

RichFranklinphotoIt’s no surprise that gifted and talented educators possess expertise in fields beyond the educational sphere. This is demonstrated very well by math teacher, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Middleweight Champion, mixed martial artist, businessman, and actor Richard Jay Franklin, Jr.

Rich was born on October 5, 1974, one of two sons of Richard Sr. and Valia Franklin. Although he was born in Kentucky, he was raised in Cincinati, Ohio. His parents divorced when he was only five years old, and through subsequent marriages he acquired five additional half-siblings. As a youngster, Rich attended William Henry Harrison High School. Following his graduation, he enrolled at the University of Cincinatti, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and his master’s degree in education. After college, Rich taught mathematics for four years at Oak Hills High School in Cincinatti.

lu25005-edit-199x300During his years as an educator, Rich launched a career as a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), with a goal of fighting professionally. He left the teaching profession to pursue his goal full-time. He quickly moved up the ranks, and in 2005 earned the UFC Middleweight World Title. Following this victory, Rich accepted a position as a coach on the second season of the television show The Ultimate Fighter.

In 2003, Rich launched a clothing company with several business partners. This enterprise was named American Fighter. “The American Fighter message was about finding the fighter in each of us,” Rich once explained, “Whether you are a person battling cancer, an athlete preparing for competition, or a soldier stepping into combat, we all have a fighter in us.” In 2012, Affliction Clothing expressed an interest in American Fighter. They acquired the majority of the company to take the brand to mainstream retailers where it continues to grow. “The American Fighter name had an obvious connection with military personnel and I have always felt it is my civic duty to give back to the troops,” Rich says. “I have visited military bases all over the country, both domestic and abroad. The most recent trip was to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. In 2006, I began working with the military extensively, particularly with disabled veterans.” Specifically, Rich is an avid supporter of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) organization.

Rich made his acting debut in a film called Cyborg Soldier,  where he portrayed an escaped super soldier. In 2010 he starred in Hamill, a story inspired by the life of Matt Hamill, a deaf UFC fighter. He can also be seen playing MMA Coach Billings in the 2014 comedy Mantervention.

The multi-talented Rich Franklin: a true chalkboard champion.

Chalkboard Champion Jaime Escalante: He Was the One To Stand and Deliver

50479530_127002097486One of the most well-known teachers in twentieth-century American history, Jaime Escalante, passed away in 2010, but already his story is fading from our collective cultural memory. Recently I conducted an informal poll of the students, and even a few of the younger teachers, at my Southern California high school. “Do you know who Jaime Escalante is?” I questioned them. Almost every one said they didn’t, until I mentioned he was the teacher portrayed by Edward James Olmos in the 1988 movie Stand and Deliver.

The recipient of numerous awards and special praise from President Ronald Reagan, Jaime Escalante was a popular and talented teacher who challenged supposedly “unteachable” inner-city Latino students to achieve beyond a level anyone thought them capable of, eventually leading them to unparalleled success on the extremely difficult Advanced Placement Calculus exam.

In researching the life story of Escalante for my own book, Chalkboard Champions, I learned some surprising facts about this remarkable educator. For example, the movie never mentions that prior to immigrating to the United States, Escalante earned a degree in mathematics and a teaching credential in Bolivia. He was a veteran teacher with nine years of experience in prestigious Bolivian schools when he decided to leave his politically unstable homeland and come to America in search of a better life for his family. Once he arrived, unable to speak a word of English, he discovered that his education, training, and experience held no value here. Determined to return to the classroom, Escalante set about learning the English language and earning his university degree all over again. It took him ten years to get back into the classroom, at a significant cut in pay, by the way, but to this dedicated teacher, it was well-worth the hard work.

A painstakingly-researched and well-written account of Escalante’s life can be found in the biographical book Jaime Escalante: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Matthews. For a condensed version of Escalante’s life, check out chapter 12 my first book, Chalkboard Champions. Either way, you’ll find his story compelling and inspiring.