Month: December 2010

Unknown Genius Teachers: Who’s Yours?

images-GoldenApple_BAt first glance, our culture seems good at celebrating great teachers. We talk endlessly about how important they are. We give out Teacher of the Year awards. We watch them onscreen — the Dead Poet Society guy, the Stand and Deliver guy, the To Sir With Love guy, the teacher in “Glee.”  They’re heroes.

But what about in everyday life? Do we have ways of locating and celebrating heroic teachers? Are there ways of identifying unknown geniuses?

Take Cosimo De Pietto, choir teacher in Brooklyn’s Erasmus High School in the 1950s, for example. Now, I can say with absolute certainty that you’ve never heard of Cosimo De Pietto. De Pietto was a terrific choir teacher by all accounts – he was tough, he was inspiring, he led many to a career in music.

The most interesting thing about De Pietto is that one of his choirs contained two students named Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond (how’s that for a powerhouse chorus, Gleeks?). Both Diamond and Streisand credit Mr. De Pietto for helping to form their passion for music. (Though, as Streisand points out, De Pietto never let her solo.)

It’s a remarkable story – two world superstars from the same high-school choir. Turned onto music by the same man, taught the basics by the same man, guided by the same man. You would have to work hard to find another person who affected American music as profoundly as Cosimo De Pietto.

With that in mind, let’s measure how modern culture appreciates Mr. De Pietto:

Total Google hits for “Barbra Streisand” and “Neil Diamond” = 22,000,000

Total Google hits for “Cosimo De Pietto” = 136

I don’t know about you, but I think these numbers are out of whack.  I think there should be a way to recognize and pay tribute to the best unknown master teachers.

So here’s the deal: you nominate the best unknown genius teachers or coaches of all time, provide a short biography, and I’ll start keeping a list.

To get things going, here are a couple:

Marvin “Towny” Townsend: Started two youth baseball teams in Tidewater, VA, that produced five major-league ballplayers; invented revolutionary new techniques to teach the art of hitting using yogurt lids.

Jim Steen: Swim coach at Kenyon College; his swimmers have won 47 NCAA titles; nicknamed The Stroke Whisperer. Quote: “The road to success has no neon signs to herald your arrival.”

Who else belongs on this list?