By Chuck Fieldman | Photos by Alyssa Barry
The unusual didn’t take long to become a beloved norm at Hinsdale Central more than 30 years ago when Anna Breig joined her brother, Marv Breig, on the science faculty at the school.
The brother and sister have become an institution at the public institution that serves high school students in the area. But while the school will continue to have many students come through its doors in the future, it will no longer have the siblings teaching physics after the 2023-24 school year ends. Both of the Breigs are retiring.
Marv, 60, has been teaching at Hinsdale Central for 36 years, while Anna has been on the faculty for 30.
“Hinsdale Central is the only ‘real’ job that I’ve ever had,” Marv said, adding that most of his teaching has been in Advanced Placement Physics. “I did teach an Earth Science course decades ago, but I’m not a memorization type of person, and I couldn’t remember all of the terminology needed to make Earth Science make sense to students,” he said. “Physics is really my thing, and I stress finding patterns and understanding how concepts fit together.” Anna said she has taught Earth Science and “a slew of physics classes.”
Science Department Chair Julie May has been at Hinsdale Central for several years, all of which have included having the Breig siblings around.
“Although I have been teaching at Central for a very long time, Marv and Anna have been here even longer than I have,” May said. “So while it is unusual to have siblings in the same department, it has been the norm at Hinsdale Central for more than three decades.”
May said there is no doubt that each of the Breig’s students often knows the other because they are in and out of each other’s classrooms.
“What is truly amazing about these two is how much they complement each other and make each other a better teacher,” May said. “While you would think that siblings would be so much alike, they truly do bring different strengths to their teaching. From Marv’s sense of humor and ability to make complicated ideas more simple through his explanations and writing to Anna’s organization and ability to find ways to help students and create practice problems and activities from the simple to the complex, together they make quite a physics team.”
Hinsdale Central Principal Bill Walsh said the school has had multiple teachers who are spouses, but having a brother and sister teaching in the same academic department has been “quite unique.”
“Their relationship adds a dynamic that creates a synergy in the Science Department,” Walsh said.“ I am thankful to have the opportunity to be their colleague and principal.”
Marv said he and Anna communicate all the time.
“We arrive at work at roughly the same time every day — around 6:15 or so — and that gives us time to collaborate and discuss the day, how we are covering material, and so on,” he said. “We often teach some of the same courses, so we agree on the pacing, the daily task list, and other logistical details, but don’t always agree on the method of explaining a topic.”
Marv said he and Anna sometimes have a different approach while teaching simply because they “just don’t think the same.”
“This works to our advantage because we try to present parts of each of our ideas blended together so that students get a better view of physics,” he said. “Sometimes a student will ask one of us a question, then go to the other to ask the same thing, just to get another viewpoint,” Marv said. He and Anna are happy to share students and often sit in each other’s classes during prep time so they can help each other’s students.
“It’s fun to have two physics teachers wandering the room and helping students at the same time,” he said.
Anna said many students initially assume she and Marv are married because they have the same last name.
“They’re surprised to find we’re siblings, possibly because we get along so well,” Anna said. “When they find we’re brother and sister, they tend to presume we think alike, but our answers to their questions show that that’s not true.”
Anna said colleagues also sometimes expect the sibling teachers to think and react alike.
“But we really aren’t clones,” she said. “We have different ways of thinking of things, and sometimes we butt heads, but most often we are able to compromise. That’s the part that others may not see. They just see that we agree on an awful lot of things.”
Agree or not, Walsh has been a big fan of both Anna and Marv.
“Mr. Breig & Ms. Breig have been successful high school science teachers because they care about students and are colleagues who want to create a department that challenges students to be the best version of themselves,” he said.
Both Breigs grew up in Charleston, IL, and attended Eastern Illinois University, where their father was a professor of physics. They both earned bachelor’s degrees in physics. After graduating from Eastern Illinois, Marv went to Indiana University (IU) to study physics, while Anna went to the University of Oklahoma to be a storm chaser. They both returned to Eastern Illinois to get teaching certification and pursue a Master of Physics Education.
Marv had an interest in teaching but originally thought he would pursue a doctorate in physics and teach at a university, as his father had done.
“But when I got to IU, I found that I enjoyed my teaching assignment — lecture and laboratory sections — better than the courses that I was taking,” he said. “Also, word apparently got out that I was good at explaining things, as students from other classes started attending mine and showed up to my office hours to ask me questions.”
Marv said he found his high school physics course dull and full of memorization. But that changed in college. “When I hit college, I found that physics was incredibly interesting the way my father taught it, and my passion for physics grew when we would have lunch together and talk about physics,” he said. “This helped to form my philosophy that physics ought to be social and collaborative and that learning a challenging subject was a lot more fun when students work together.”
Anna said that having their father, along with some uncles, teach at universities and their mother work as a middle school teacher offered a look at the life of being an educator.
“We knew what the life was like—lots of tests and papers to grade, no paycheck over summer, and long hours of lesson planning and creation of activities during the school year,” she said. “I swore I would not be a teacher. In fact, after getting my bachelor’s in physics, I applied for research assistantships and was granted one at the University of Oklahoma. However, I soon found myself tutoring my peers. Eventually, I figured out that it wasn’t really a choice. One way or the other, I seemed to be teaching.”
The decision to become teachers by Anna and her bother has worked out well for both. May said both siblings have brought plenty to the table for many years. “They will leave a Big Bang-sized hole in the department when they retire,” she said.
“Marv loves to help students get to their ‘aha!’ moments in physics and thrives on helping students individually,” she said. “If a student is struggling, I know that Marv will go above and beyond to help a student understand and succeed. He designs his class so that he can maximize his time with students individually to help them learn how to do some of the toughest physics problems he can find.”
May said being innovative has been a big strength of Anna’s.
“Anna is so innovative in coming up with new and interesting ways to help students practice their physics concepts, whether it is coming up with scaffolded practice opportunities or finding ways to incorporate technology into those opportunities,” May said. “She is endlessly available for students who need help, and she is such a calm presence for students.
Both Breigs are officially retiring from teaching when the current school year ends in May. But it’s quite possible Marv will still be around.
“I am hoping to continue working in the district, doing athletic statistics and research,” Marv said. “I have been doing sports stats for some teams at Hinsdale Central for decades, and the coaches would like for me to continue after I retire.” ■