Set the scene: The clock is ticking, winding down to 3:30. Students anxiously watch the second hand slowly tick by, waiting for the bell to ring. They have their hands on their already-closed backpacks, ready to bolt as soon as the clock sets them free. And then it does. But instead of heading out the front door and to their cars, free for another day, about a good number of the uniform-clad, private school student body heads for a single classroom. The lucky ones get there first. The rest form a line that winds around the corner and down the hallway. And they’re restless. They know Mr. Lund only accepts a certain number of people in his club, and it’s first-come, first-serve. They worry the sign-up sheet will be full by the time they reach it. They count the number of heads in front of them, some relieved, some disappointed. Within 20 minutes, the sign-up sheet is full, and the students that didn’t make it turn away disappointed, already wondering about next year.
And what club was this, that teenagers anxiously stood in line for, disappointed to be turned away?
That’s right. For two months club members met in Mr. Lund’s room after school to study that year’s chosen opera. For two months we analyzed characters and plot lines, researched mythologies and histories, identified language nuances, and memorized arias (I still remember portions of The Barber of Seville to this day, and I have a weird affection for anything related to Wagner’s Ring Cycle). At the end of two months we took a test to prove our knowledge and understanding of the piece, and then Mr. Lund took us to see the opera live. And we loved it.
I’ve told the stories of Mr. Lund’s Opera Society to my own students, and they always look at me like I’m crazy. Why would we voluntarily subject ourselves to more work, more studying than school already provides? And about opera, for crying out loud! We weren’t music students; isn’t opera boring to anyone that isn’t a stuffy musician, old lady, or rich snob?
The only answer I can give is Mr. Lund.
Mr. Lund was our English teacher, but he was an English teacher with a passion for classical music. Even in our American Lit class, he would often stop his lesson to play us a particular piece from his favorites. Mozart, Bach, and Wagner were discussed to almost as much depth as Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Henry David Thoreau. And when he played the music for us, he didn’t calmly point out excellent moments; he danced. Excitement lit his face and we his students couldn’t help but smile and be caught up in his joy. Mr. Lund loved the music so much that he would literally dance in his seat at the live performances (we took bets on who would end up sitting next to him in the theater). That kind of passion and excitement is contagious, and while we didn’t dance in our seats (mostly), we loved every moment of studying those operas with him.
I use the music example to prove what kind of effect Mr. Lund had on his students, but do not misunderstand me. Just as his love for music exuded from every fiber of his being, he was also the most passionate English teacher I’ve ever had. He could ignite apathetic 10th graders into a week-long debate on “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died.” Fed up with the ineffectiveness and confusion of most grammar books, he wrote his own grammar curriculum, entitled Mr. Lund’s Guide to Professional Clamdigging. His clear rules and example sentences have inspired many of the grammar lessons I teach in my own classes now.
He was only my teacher for one year in 10th grade, but he took an interest in me even before I enrolled in that school. He was friends with my dad, and when my sister was in Mr. Lund’s class, she told him she was reading a Shakespeare book on the recommendation of her 8th grade little sister (yes, I was that much of a nerd). He taught a Shakespeare class for 11th and 12th grade students, and they were planning to attend my favorite play that year (Twelfth Night). Mr. Lund invited me along, even though he had to turn away students at the school that wanted to go, too. Somehow, Mr. Lund made my extreme English nerdiness socially acceptable. Even though I had to move away after 10th grade, simply the potential that he offered me to continue to grow and explore English in his classes turned my interest in reading into a dream for my future.
Earlier this week Facebook told me that Mr. Lund is retiring, and of course that brought back all the memories of learning to write with “pics,” trying to decipher his messy hand-writing, and Book-A-Month reports. I felt a shiver as I remembered his voice dancing over the alliteration in “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”, and I chuckled over how he threw out all our terrible definitions of a sentence that first grammar lesson. But even more, I found myself thinking of his impact. One group of creative students in the class above me were so inspired by Mr. Lund that they wrote and performed No Extra Charge, an affectionate musical “rock opera” parody of Mr. Lund’s quirks and teaching style. I saw again the line curving around the corner, waiting to sign up for Opera Society. And I saw the exclamations of disbelief posted all over Facebook from his former students, simultaneously grieving the school’s loss and celebrating the memories of one of the best teachers we’ve ever known.