The Power of a Great Teacher

Dead Poets Society
The ultimate “English Teacher” movie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My blog exploded this weekend.

Well, a little.  I didn’t receive more followers or more likes, but I did get hits.  So many hits.  Sometimes I link my blog post to Facebook, but not all the time, and I decided not to publicize my last post right away.  It felt too personal to advertise, so I simply wrote it and hit publish.  Despite that, within 24 hours links to my post were popping up all over Facebook and Twitter from former classmates and the school’s alumni page.  Mr. Lund himself shared a link, saying he was in a state of “shock” over my article.  Before, I averaged about 10-20 views a day, maybe more on days I published a post.  When the post about Mr. Lund went up, I received 130-180 hits a day.  Within 48 hours “The English Teacher Who Danced to Mozart” beat out “6 Reasons Teen Blogs are Awesome” as my most visited post of all time.

Freedom Writers
Another good “English Teacher” movie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know why.  All this increase in traffic says nothing about me as a blogger, but it speaks volumes about Mr. Lund as a teacher.  Almost all the links went up on alumni pages and classmates’ profiles.  As the body of Mr. Lund’s former students, we collectively joined together to celebrate this man who influenced so many of us.  A few of my friends who never knew Mr. Lund also shared my post, with comments like “I wish I’d had this teacher!”  I do, too.  I wish everyone could experience a teacher like him.

I’ve had many good teachers throughout my life.  The math teacher that successfully guided me through AP Calculus, even though – ehem – I don’t like math.  The drama coach that opened up the world of responsibility and professionalism in addition to talent.  The history teacher that took me under her wing and mentored me as an individual beginning to take on the world. The strict but hilarious English professor, complete with deep voice and elbow patches on his tweed coat, that taught my favorite college lit classes.  These teachers taught me well, mentored me, and helped me to grow.  I dream to be like them.  I have confidence in my teaching ability and know that I do my job well.  I’ve received confirmation from students and administration alike that I am a good at what I do.  I am a good teacher.  But a great one?

Film poster for The Great Debaters - Copyright...
OK, this one is just a good movie  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mr. Lund was – is – a great teacher, and it seems egotistical to think I could ever be close to being like him (in my own way, of course.  I’ve already forgotten Mozart’s birthday).  He made teenage kids fall in love with opera and Shakespeare and poetry and classical music.  He inspired me, a self-proclaimed English nerd, but he also inspired everyone else, too.  His influence is widespread and across the board, simply by being the man that he is.  I just have to look at my stats page as proof.

What is it that separates the good from the great?  Why are some teachers remembered fondly with a warm smile, while others inspire books and movies to be made about them?  Because while I loved my other teachers, in my mind Mr. Lund lives among the ranks of Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society, Ms. Gruwell from Freedom Writers, and Mr. Tolson from The Great Debaters.

I want to know more.  Tell me about your great teachers.  Tell me about the one teacher who could be made into a movie, whom if you wrote a blog post about that person, your classmates would celebrate with you and explode your stats page.  Tell me what made them great, what separated them from the rest.

I’ll admit, though, that part of me is scared to ask.  I’m afraid of the comparison.  Because I know I’m a good teacher… but could I ever be like them?


8 thoughts on “The Power of a Great Teacher

Add yours

  1. Hi Christine

    I had a great teacher named Mr. John DeHaan. He was the choir director for the only public high school in Clinton, Iowa, from about the late 1950’s until either the late 1980’s or early 1990’s. He passed away a few years ago. A classmate alerted me to a website that had his obituary and a place where individuals could write a note to the family or leave memories. The site exploded with pages and pages of notes and memories from former students from all across the United States. There were too many pages to read.

    Like most great teachers, Mr. DeHaan was passionate about his subject which was choral music. He loved classical music, sacred music, and opera; and he had a wonderful baritone voice. He loved to introduce students to this music. He had the ability to pull a voice out of students who had no idea that they could sing. He was especially good at doing this with high school boys.

    I had Mr. DeHaan in 1966 and 1967. I got out my high school year book and counted the number of students in the high school choir picture. There were 105 of us. We all practiced together in a large choir room. Sectional practices often occurred before school in the morning.

    Mr. DeHaan ran a very tight ship. He put a piece of tape across the middle of the seat of each of the student chairs. When we sang, we had to sit with our butts in front of that piece of tape; our feet flat on the floor; out backs straight; our music up; and our eyes on the director; (Mr. DeHaan). There could not be the hint of a slouch. If someone thought this was too strict, he/she didn’t have to be in choir. There was always someone waiting to take that person’s place. I did not make it into the choir until the second semester of my junior year, and I felt very privileged to be there.

    Mr. DeHaan chose many pieces of sacred music for our choir. Public schools could do that back in the 1960’s. Looking back I think that music was as much a part of my spiritual formation as anything I learned in church during my high school years. We sang a Back cantata for two choirs that sang antiphonally. We learned a Haydn mass. During my sophomore year, when I wasn’t in the choir, I liked to sit in the back of the auditorium and listen to the choir practice Brahm’s Requiem. We did secular music, too. Much of it was challenging, but we loved it.

    As I was looking through my year book, I read a message from a friend that she had written under the choir pictures. One of her sentences stands out. It says, “…even though we have graduated, and our year is over, the spirit, the drive, the discipline, and the love that we all had for choir is still there…waiting to be called upon when needed and used in life once again.”

    Thank you, Mr. DeHaan.
    From Mom


  2. Awesome post. I still remember to this day who my favorite teachers and coaches were (and which ones I disliked the most!). Great insight, thanks for the inspiration and reminders of my past mentors.


  3. Honestly? I’ve been reading through your blog, and I think you already are one of those teachers that change their student’s lives. Thanks for everything. 🙂


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