Middle School Teacher Who Captivated Thousands With Animated Videos Is New W.Va. Teacher Of The Year
Milton Middle School teacher Brian Casto was named the 2022 West Virginia Teacher of the Year.
Casto has just entered his 14th year teaching social studies, and it’s his fifth year teaching West Virginia Studies. Casto grew up in the state and received his teaching degree from Marshall University.
During the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, when all schools moved to remote and virtual learning, Casto made original, animated videos to help teach his class. The videos ended up catching the interest of more than just his students though.
To-date, his videos collectively on YouTube and Facebook have been viewed around 100,000 times.
Education reporter Liz McCormick sat down virtually with Casto to talk about his career and about being honored by the state in the midst of a pandemic.
This transcript from the original broadcasts has been lightly edited for clarity.
LIZ MCCORMICK: Brian, thank you so much for joining us, and congratulations on being named the 2022 West Virginia Teacher of the Year. What does this achievement mean to you?
BRIAN CASTO: It's definitely an honor. Very humbling. I just hope that I can represent West Virginia well, and my county, and social studies in general, especially since I teach West Virginia Studies. So hopefully I can shine a little light on how awesome our state is.
MCCORMICK: Brian, you’re a West Virginia native, and you grew up in Boone County. Talk with us a little bit about what inspired you to enter teaching.
CASTO: Whenever I was younger, I was in Boy Scouts. As you get older in Boy Scouts, you're kind of tasked with the responsibility of trying to help the younger scouts. So I kind of got used to teaching how to tie a knot and how to do different things with camping, and just the things that go with Boy Scouts. [I] kind of took from that, and then [I had] some really great teachers in high school. I also had a really good history teacher, and I realized, ‘man, I really love history, and I really like talking to people about history. So maybe if I just put two and two together, maybe I'll love telling people all about the world and things that have happened.’ And so I decided to go with that. And somehow things clicked, and I feel like this is where I'm supposed to be.
MCCORMICK: Brian, let's talk about your animated videos. What started that journey?
CASTO: So it’s crazy how things kind of happened. I started working on the videos about a month before everything shut down, and I had only made maybe three videos. I made them for my class, because there's really not a lot of media out there for West Virginia Studies, especially things that would kind of pique the interest of students. So I started making those, but I wasn't really on a timeframe. I was kind of just making them as I taught things. Then the pandemic hit, and I started making them more because my students were virtual, and I wanted them to have something that would kind of get them excited and keep them engaged. I started making them and posting them on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. And all of a sudden other teachers started to send me messages saying that they were using the videos for their students that were virtual, and it kind of grew. So then I felt, not really pressure, but I felt kind of like an urgency to turn these videos out as quickly as I could. So I worked quite a bit from week-to-week trying to get these out there for other educators especially.
MCCORMICK: Talk with me about the wider response that you got from these videos.
CASTO: So originally, I made them for my students, and then my wife was like, ‘you know, you should post these on Facebook too, because maybe people will see them on Facebook, and go find them on YouTube.’ So I started posting them on Facebook with a link to [my] YouTube so the educators could use them more easily. [The response] definitely caught me off guard, especially when parents first started messaging and said that they were enjoying them. And then [I heard from] grandparents who were with a student watching these videos, and it just kept growing and growing and growing. I even had people from other places in the country say that they watched the videos, and they reminded them of when they were growing up in West Virginia, and they really enjoyed them, which really meant a lot. I really didn't think that it would ever become as wide reaching as it has.
MCCORMICK: How many videos have you made so far? And are you still making videos this year?
CASTO: Yes, so I'm actually working on one right now for October. I made one on the creatures of West Virginia, like the monsters and folklore. Like the Braxton County Monster and Mothman and so on. This year, I'm [also] working on spooky places of West Virginia for the October video. I [also] just wrapped up a video this summer on a bunch of events that happened during the American Civil War. [In total], I've done a little over 40 videos since I started.
MCCORMICK: That's wonderful, and congratulations again. Brian, shifting gears a little bit. You come into this role as teacher of the year in the midst of a global health pandemic. Since the start of this new school year, we have seen dozens of outbreaks and hundreds of individual cases of COVID-19 in our schools in West Virginia. What role do you see yourself playing in the overall path forward out of this pandemic for our schools?
CASTO: I have learned that in the last year-and-a-half since this all started that I don't do long term planning other than thinking of my final outcome, but as far as the day-to-day things, I try to keep it to a very short span of time. I've tried to keep my focus very much like this week and not so much next week until that comes around, because I've learned that as my college professor, Dr. Isaac said, ‘the F word in education is flexibility.’ I have learned that you have to be more flexible than ever right now. So as far as myself, I mean, I think navigating [the pandemic], every teacher that I work with, we're all just trying to get those really important skills down so that no matter what ends up happening with the school year, as far as continuity, just trying to make sure that there are certain skills that [our students] are going to need when they go to 9th grade, for the course that I teach. So I want to make sure that they have those skills. And I mean, as far as my role as the teacher of the year, I hope that I can bring encouragement to other educators and school staff and students in this difficult time, because I know that it is very difficult, especially with so many unknowns this year.
MCCORMICK: I understand that when you come into the role in January 2022, a lot of what you'll be doing is traveling around the state, and you'll be going to schools and talking to students and teachers. What is something you're looking most forward to?
CASTO: There's so many things I'm looking forward to. One is just seeing all the cool things that teachers are doing across the state, because I know they're doing great things. So seeing that is going to be cool. But also, I mean, obviously I'm gonna steal some ideas. I mean, if I see some great things happening in Upshur County, then I'm gonna bring it back to Cabell County. I'm excited to see all the neat things teachers are doing and the students are doing. I love this state. I plan on, as much as possible, whenever I'm making these trips, to see some things that I can take back for my classroom as well.