select letters from viewers and students from the ITVS site ...
I was one of Albert Cullum's students at Midland School in Rye, New York. My life was changed forever. I grew up a fearful and unhappy boy with very little to feel good about. I stuttered constantly, was awkward and introverted, and felt the future offered nothing.
Al Cullum changed all that. He taught me that there was a world of greatness, creativity, and beauty just waiting to be experienced. Every thing Al touched was magical, be it history, math, poetry, or art. His classroom hummed with joy and excitement. Every subject was treated with contagious creativity. We solved math problems in King Tut's tomb, raced around the room solving geography problems, read great poety to our peers, guessed the names of masterpieces of art and I'm not even scratching the surface.
Al's lunch breaks were taken up with batting balls to us. Instead of commuting home 30 miles to New York, he stayed after school three days a week in referee the street hockey games he had organized. He accepted my parent's invitation for dinner one night and stayed to watch my little league baseball game.
I went on teach English nine years in the public schools, and I marvel at the man's dedication, creativity, and energy, not to mention his love.
Al made me feel special long before Mr. Rogers came along. So much of what I am and what I value comes from that man who trekked to the suburbs every day for what must have been a small compensation.
I logged on to the computer tonight because I have been thinking about Al recently, and I wanted to thank him for what he did for me. I was saddened to find out that he had passed away, but I was delighted to see that this wonderful movie had been made, and that many of my former classmates felt the same way about him that I did.
We give a lot of lip service to teachers, but we pay them little and bestow a marginal status on them. I don't teach anymore, but my daughter is now the same age I was when I met Al, and I truly cherish these wonderful people who inspire and care about her just like Al did for us.
I am very fortunate, and I know all of Al's former students are too. Rest well, Al, your life was well spent.
I just viewed the film "A Touch of Greatness" in a class for gifted certification. Dr. Cullum reminded me of another "gifted" teacher I encountered early in my career. He believed students learned through all their senses and taught history in a most unique manner. Students hid under desks as the bombs (books)rained down on helpless Londoners (students)during the Battle of Britian; air-raid siren blaring (he was very good at sound effects). He never sent a student to the principal as they almost worshipped him as their leader. He was a performer in his classroom who knew every child and found a way to get the best from each one. His school became his life. Every afternoon, he was in the gym playing basketball with the kids no one else could tolerate. He too, incurred the rath of his fellow teachers who could not or refused to form the kind of relationship he forged with his students. They found ways to demean his accomplishments to the point that he did not socialize with them in the lounge, but was happy to hold court in the student cafeteria with his loyal subjects. In the end he did very well and I feel was rewarded for his service to young people; he retired after touching many lives and today lives very, very comfortably with an inheritance bequested by two wealthy spinsters whom he cared for many years. Mr. Holloman, you truly made a difference.
Ron Fisher, Ph.D.
Albert Cullum reminded me of my freshman (high school) teacher who honored the 55 students in each of the 4 sections of his English class (Catholic prep. school) by having us read Shakespeare instead of studying grammar, 1960-64. He got in trouble because we didn't do well on the standardized grammar tests. However, I learned about human nature, and I learned to think critically, as Albert Cullum taught his fifth-graders. A few years later, having dropped out of college because I found it boring, I talked my way into a teaching position at my h.s. alma mater in San Francisco, teaching four sections of English. In addition to teaching Shakespeare, I offered a writing seminar to all interested students during their (and my) lunch hour. I was told by the principal to desist, that lunch time was for athletics. So, flying under the radar, I moved the class to my apartment on Saturdays.
After pursuing a Ph.D., I found that my goal of infecting college students with my love of literature and creative writing would "get in the way of your being tenured."
I abandoned teaching--in the classroom--and became a personal and career counselor, getting a Ph.D. in psychology but always believing I learned most about human nature not from Freud but from Shakespeare and my h.s. English teacher, Mr. Franxman.
My family left Rye in the middle of my 4th grade year at Midland School in the late 50's. One of my good friends was Steve Lawson and that connection (long severed, now reconnected) led me to this wonderful film. I have been haunted by it since watching it, twice. My older brother Peter had Mr. Cullum which is why I knew him as well as I did. Peter is 60 and talked about Mr. Cullum all the time. We had him to dinner at our house a number of times and I recall my parents embracing him and, I am guessing, his techniques. I was shocked to see that he was an outcast. I have few regrets in life but I can add to that short list this one: that I didn't have the opportunity to be taught by such a great man. What I do recall, however, was how proud I was in 2nd grade to have gotten published in the Chatter Box. I still have the issue, in fact.
Nothing in recent memory has produced such excitement in me as much as this film. My partner is on the board of a small school in San Francisco and he enjoyed the movie so much that he is going to share it with the head of the school. I intend to share it with as many people as I can as well as with my three siblings, all of whom recall him. Al Cullum was surely a man ahead of his time. Thank you for making this film.
Mary S. Bahr
Being a creative person, I am SO impressed by Albert Cullum specifically in that he was confident in knowing he was uniquely different and not afraid to express what came from a deep place within him. Teachers can be well educated and trained, but they don't ALL have that unique, inner freedom and special spirit, which makes for greatness. How can children be truly taught and transformed without such greatness as a role model? Children can discern the types of hypocrisy. Two examples of my grade school life: in 8th grade, the school librarian was more than livid when I told her I had just read "Rebecca" [Daphne DuMaurier] and thought it was so good that the school library should get their own copy. And, on the other hand, my 7th grade science teacher taught really fun classes and, therefore, I told my parents that science was my favorite subject and that what I learned most was why he painted his house black (an oddball personal story he would always talk about). Needless to say I also failed science. I am a post-grad from an art college where there was a freedom of expression along with discipline of craft, but I learned more to discern the good, innovative teachers from ones I likened to be "ingenuine puppets with a reputation to uphold." The best influence on my development was my father - who didn't "teach" me as much as be a role model in what, as a man, who was a fine arts painter, truly valued and acted on with a deep well of great spirit. And his college students gravitated towards his genuiness. He and Mr. Cullum, I think, would have liked each other.
Watching this film left me teary, exhilarated, sad, and a little bit more hopeful than before. Al Cullum was my teacher at Midland School in the early-to-mid 60s and I was fortunate enough to be in two productions of his (in fact I'm in some of the archive footage film and that's me in the picture on the right of "The Teacher" page of this site.) As with his former students featured in the film, his effect on me continues to this day. Over the years I've frequently related stories of Mr. Cullum and credited him with fostering so many of the life choices I made and core principles I hold out to my kids.
Simply put, Mr. Cullum had the most profound impact a teacher can have on a student. By being who he was, he made us understand that art mattered, that we mattered, that there was truth, compassion, and beauty in the world, and that we shouldn't be afraid to embrace them. That sounds like a lot to load onto a fifth grader, and of course I didn't realize any of it explicitly at the time. All I knew was that I loved being in any classroom or after-school actively with him. Thanks to this movie, though, I was able to see from an adultís perspective the effects of Mr. Cullum's philosophy and practice of teaching on us. Our interest in, and excellent retention of, normally dry subject matter like vocabulary and grammar was astounding. Our desire to learn and participate was impressive. Most importantly, the performances he drew out of his kids, by simply letting us know we were up to the task of understanding the characters we were portraying, were profound.
I do have to say that even at the time I was amazed that Mr. Cullum was allowed to get away with half of what he did, and as the years pass and my observation of institutional conservativism and myopia increases, it amazes me even more. In retrospect it makes me even more astonished that I was able to have those important years with Mr. Cullum.
As a final note, my reaction was not just misty-eyed nostalgia working its way on me forty-odd years later. My wife is a theater arts teacher, and my daughter is a theater major at a public performing arts high school. Both of them were enthralled and touched by the film. It showed me that Al Cullum's loving and honest approach to teaching transcends time and place and can be a touchstone for new generations. I'm hopeful that this film can jump-start a few teachers to approach the process in a new, more thoughtful, and exciting way. Even in the face of "No Child Left Behind" bureaucratic nonsense.
I watched this program on a snowy lunch break at home yesterday. Though I am a fan of Independent Lens, I was not prepared for the beauty I beheld in this film. The footage of children performing Shakespeare and other great works, made me laugh, but then, it made me cry too -- not from sadness, but because their movement was so pure. Teachers like Cullum don't touch ones life everyday, but through this documentary, he was able to touch more lives even after his death. It was some of the most inspired footage I have ever seen. Thank you for making this available to audiences around the country.
I was blessed to have Professor Cullum as my teacher while at Stonehill College. At an age in which one is bordering on adulthood and told to "grow up" and "act your age", he taught us that it is ok to loosen up, have fun, and understand what it is to be a kid again. Through this authentic play-making, he helped us express our creativity at a time in our lives in which conformity to our peers and the rules of adulthood are becoming key. He gave me a sense of confidence and freedom that is rare in the classroom.
I hope that he knows what a difference he made in so many lives. I regret that I did not have the opportunity to thank him.
One wish is that the program could be shown in the Boston area at a more watchable prime-time hour. I'd watch a program of this quality over "The Bachelor" for instance anyday.
Charles E. Walton, IV
Something woke me from sleep last night in my hotel in Roanoke,Va. at 4:00 am. The television was on and it was playing this incredible story. I was so moved I tried to buy it last night to show everyone I know. I only wish there could be a "Mr.Cullum" in spirit in each school. I am too much of a realist to even wish. This film at least validates the efforts of the ones that still try. Reading your talkback section was a self portrait of my ugly face. I was a disruptive class clown trying my best to undermine the class for my troubled attention needs. I have not stopped thinking all day -what if.....what if, I had been lucky enough to have been exposed to such knowledge and influence. One can only imagine how, not just the class clowns like me but the troubled students and the truly gifted could change the world with the gifts this man gave. I am in awe.
New York, New York
Joy to the world. Joy from a child. This man Albert Cullum understood the core of the human spirit. He was not afraid to be himself and to help others freely express themselves. I don't think humiliation or embarrassment were part of the story in his classes. You did what you did and learned from it.
This wonderful documentary reminded me of the production of the school play "Islands" which was made in Maine and which had a staging on Broadway in 2001. We here so much about the big deal heroes. Mr. Cullum is surely one of the special people and his students were so lucky to have been in his class.
It doesn't have to be school where soul murder occurs (definition: stealing the joy of a person). The workplace is all too often the deadly setting for adults to play out the loss of joy; for mediocre bosses to strip the joy and spirit of workers. Please show this superb documentary again. I smiled throughout and experienced such joy. Thank you, thank you so very much.
I only saw the tail end of the program (about 20 minutes). I was struck by one of the teachers saying that, essentially, one cannot be an innovative teacher without incurring the wrath of the incompetents, the mediocre, and/or the indifferent teachers/administrators. As a former substitute teacher for the Chicago Public Schools (about 3 months in toto), I found that to be absolutely true!
It seems I have a natural knack for teaching EMH students. At one school, I subbed for a special education teacher. When the 'retard' students actually began to learn, to understand what I was teaching, the teacher's aide stopped me. Mid-sentence! She had already told me that the students were essentially unteachable and here I was putting her to the lie. And she wasn't having it! I remember we were reading about electrical conductivity. The book said that rubber did not conduct electricity well (I think I'm remembering correctly). The students were frowning or looking at me blankly. I used as an example, the rubber boots that firemen wear so that when standing in water, they won't get shocked by any loose live wires. It was more detailed, but the upshot was that the students' faces ALL lit up and they watched me now avidly instead of passively. They were learning! The aide saw what was happening and put a stop to it.
At a Chicago public high school for the retarded, after 2 days of subbing, I became the talk of the school. One student who never talked to teachers was talking to me (interestingly, it so upset her when she realized this - it was her one claim to fame - that she moved to another desk on the far side of the room away from me). I never sat behind the desk; I was on the move and interacting personally with every student. I treated and talked to each student as a student, not a 'retard'. It turned out I had a particularly difficult class. Teachers would peek their heads into my room to see what was going on because my room was never that quiet. Gratifyingly, almost every teacher appreciated my efforts - and success! - with the class. On the 3rd day, however, the principal dismissed me. The clerk in the office hid her head in shame, embarrassment, commiseration, whatever, when I signed out for the last time. It turnedout that having heard about the wunderkind sub, the principal felt that I was 'over-reaching' myself in that I dared to control a class that was considered incorrigible, through kindliness, dedication, and belief in the students' abilities to learn. That the students were responding AND LEARNING he considered an affront. I was a sub, not a REAL teacher (the reason I was given for the dismissal was that the regular teacher was returning early from vacation, the next day. It was not true, but as my work spoke for itself, he had no other option except to lie about my performance. Which, thank heaven for small favors, he did not).
I have not, and do not anticipate subbing ever again. The mediocrity and 'don't rock the boat' status quo (thankfully, at the EMH high school, this was not the case with most of the teaching staff, just the affronted principal, which incidentally, I never even met) are enough to drive innovative teachers with a drive to excel at all they do, away.
My sister is a certified teacher in the public school system. When I told her of my experiences, she was not surprised. An innovator herself (2 of her former elementary students who became honor society students in high school, independently and unaware of the other, nominated her for a Golden Apple award - usually only ONE student nominates a former teacher), she was disgusted but, having paid the price for her own excellence, understood perfectly the intimidated, status quo mediocrity behind the aide's and principal's efforts to thwart my reaching the minds of the students.
I, too, am finally NOT surprised. My first few years in public school were a total learning experience. My family moved and at the next school, I was INNUNDATED with uncaring, unresponsive, disdainful and medicore teachers. My high school educational experience was so dismal that I remember thinking in my sophomore year that I had better graduate fast before I became 'dumber and dumber' (in 8th grade, I was reading at a 12th grade level; in 10th grade, I dropped 2 levels in reading to a 10th grade level). As a substitute teacher, I saw how the system keeps its children's minds passive, inactive and oftentimes uninvolved and disinterested in the learning process. It does this through chaining to standardized methodology, any of the teaching staff's creative and innovative approaches to teaching individual as well as groups of students. This approach works fine for the unenlightened, the barely competent, the disinterested teacher. It stifles, frustrates, and eventally drives away the gifted, the strivers for excellence in teaching.
The Indie program - what I saw of it - was excellent. Will it change administator and/or teachers' attitudes toward maximizing students' learning potential? I doubt it. The mediocre, the incompetent, the just plain mean and petty not only out-number the dedicated and gifted, they are in charge of the system. Thanks for this opportunity to vent.
Spike Dolomite Ward
San Fernando Valley, Cali
What an inspiration: "A Touch of Greatness" and Albert Cullum. As an arts education activist, I couldn't agree more with everything I saw and heard in this film. I'll be ordering many copies of this film to distribute to schools in the San Fernando Valley.
I started a nonprofit 5 years ago to fill a void that has been present in public education for an entire generation: the absence of the arts. We are in the Los Angeles Unified School District, one of the worst districts in the entire country. To date, this nonprofit provides services to about 4,000 students (two comprehensive arts education programs in two Title I elementary schools, and supplemental support to several other elementary schools with supply donations, field trips, and cultural assemblies. We also donate art and music supplies to middle and high school art departments to take the burden off of teachers who are expected to purchase supplies out of their own pockets or fundraise to do their jobs.)
As an activist, I believe to the very depths of my soul that the arts are absolutely critical to a well rounded education. In my experience over the past five years, I have seen many children pulled up out of the where they have suffered with labels such as "ADD," "learning disabled," "behavior disorder," or "too dreamy." Through the arts, these kids are finally being given a chance to succeed at school. They have become visible, comfortable and respected.
Sadly, though, with the No Child Left Behind Act and standardized testing, these kids can not be assessed creatively by their teachers. If they don't fill the bubbles in just right on these ridiculous tests, then they don't get rid of their labels. Teachers have been forced to marginalize their classrooms by separating the kids who are not easy to teach from the rest of the class by assigning these labels. If they can be assessed with any sort of disability, then they go into a special file where the teacher no longer has to be fully responsible for teaching them. And the schools don't have to worry about their test scores bringing down the school's test scores. That's what education has been reduced to. Not only does public education deny children a well rounded education by teaching the arts, but it also gives up on creative kids. They are outcasts, misunderstood, and too much work for classroom teachers who don't have enough time in the day to prepare their kids for the next test. Teachers can no longer be creative in how they teach. Everything is scripted for them and they are under a tremendous amount of pressure to make sure that their kids test well in the spring. And those kids who are, and always will be, easy to teach, well, they're public education's little soldiers. If we can marginalize every kid who doesn't test well, then our school will get a good report card. Thanks, George Bush!
We need the arts to save the kids who have fallen through the cracks. At-risk kids need the arts so that they can safely express themselves. We need the arts to challenge the good test takers to climb outside of the box to explore the limitless possibilities that lie outside of the box, those possibilities with no one right answer. We need the arts to restore creativity to teaching as a profession. Where would we all be if Einstein's mom was told that he had ADD and needed to be medicated? Sitting in the dark, that's where! Great test takers are not always great thinkers!
I totally agree with Mr. Cullum's comment about public education being the cancer of mediocrity. As a parent, I'll be pulling my kid out of public education after this school year.
As sad as it is to lose such a man as Albert Cullum, he lives on in his students, his work, and this film. I'm going to order a box of them today!
My 16 year old son Cody actually sat down and watched this documentary with me. He took a break from his computer games to get a Coke. Cody usually takes a minute on his way back to the computer to sit down and give me a hug and then off to gamerland he goes.
Not this time.
He actually sat down and watched a black and white documentary. Then Cody said Albert Cullum was cool.
For me to say I loved this story is an understatement and nothing compared to being called cool by a 16 year old boy in 2005.
South Portland, Maine
I am one of Professor Cullum's students. I feel very priveleged to have spent my college years learning from such a wonderful man. I graduated a year before he passed away. Right up until the end he was inspiring education majors to remember that learning is not measured by tests, but by the interest and involvement of the students. I was very happy to see this video and can remember him telling us about it. The world has lost an irreplaceable tresure.
North Pole, Ak
George Bernard Shaw (also mentioned by Albert Cullum in your video) is quoted as saying, "What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child." I have that hanging in my class as a constant reminder to me of how I should teach. Albert Cullum exemplified this philosphy in an exceptional and extraordinary way. He had a gift and I'm not sure one can teach that at a university but I'm trying. Viewing this video will be added to my syllabus as a requirement by my university students. I should add that I also teach 2nd and 3rd. grades (looping) in a public school system and this is also how I love to teach; as an inquiry based constructivist. My class is always noisy and there's a lot of learning going on within its walls. No doubt Mr. Cullum enjoyed going to work every day he taught just as much as his students loved coming to his class. I know I do!
overland park, KS
from flipping the channels trying to fall asleep, i found something that grabbed my full attention. this film should be shown to all teachers and to those with asperations of teaching too. being just out of high school, i know what is like when someone isn't having fun when they teach, and if "you aren't having fun, no one is", right? this film has definatly inspired me to become a better person with a young soul.
I watched your program about Albert Cullum TWICE. I am a little younger than the students profiled in the program but I literally cried at the end because I know the world would be a much better place with more innovative teachers like Mr. Cullum. When I was in the 4th grade I had a creative teacher who thought outside of the box and she clashed on a regular basis with some parents but mainly the administration. They wouldn't let her use her gifts to teach us in wonderfully inventive ways. Eventually she left because she wouldn't comply with their wishes to conform and return to the same old boring method of memorizing facts & figures. I fear with the emphasis on testing, we squelch any opportunity for teachers like Mr. Cullum to inspire the next generation and for that we all lose out.
Last night, my son and his girlfriend has just finished watching the reality series "The Biggest Loser" when they turned to our Nashville Public TV station and started watching "A Touch of Greatness" whereupon I joined them, and we all found ourselves captivated by this captivating program. I have been a teacher for 38 years and, in all modesty, have considered myself a pretty good high school English teacher, but suddenly I felt myself beginning to pale when compared to Albert's majestic teaching. His comments about American education are, whether we like it or not, right on the money. This film should be required viewing for every teacher training program in America if not for every current teacher. So many school districts have slogans about focusing on the child when, in fact, they focus on state-mandated compentency testing that now seem to validate their existence in the public eye. Albert Cullum took a risk and focused on the children, and, in doing so, was one of "America's Biggest Winners."
I had the misfortune of attending a private, catholic grade school. We had to look alike (uniforms) and any kind of talent or uniqeness you had was extinguished. I now wonder how different my life would have been if I had been encouraged to be myself.
I feel cheated out of my childhood.
New York, NY
As one looks around education today I think, where is the joy? I was inspired, renewed and reminded why I have chosen this noblest of professions when I saw this show on Albert Cullum. He was so on target in what he said about teacher preparation. I taught in the 'great reform' movement of Open Ed.back in the early 70's. It was our passion and joy for years...and they, the system, fought us all the way. Ironically, many of the things we did then are standard practice, and teachers are now being strong armed into using some of those methods??? What's wrong with this picture?
Yes, Yes, yes, we need to re-inspire those college kids we teach, they are dead in their souls!!! Life is joyful and an adventure in learning....and those that feel that way should teach. Unfortunately, standardardization and testing in schools today is deadening. I do however support standards, because they are guidelines for what is important...but they are just that, guidelines, not edicts as they are used in schools today.
It was interesting to me to read how many people had tears in their eyes as they watched A Touch of Greatness. I think it was because Albert Cullum allowed us to see what a simply beautiful thing learning can be. The love and joy that his students were experiencing shone through the television screen. Perhaps we were mourning a missed opportunity to experience our own greatness. Or one for our children to experience theirs. I wonder how many children of all backgrounds and possessing all kinds and levels of ability could be "saved" with a teacher like Mr. Cullum.
Thank you for a truly wonderful film.
I was inspired by both the film and others' comments. I teach in a "university without walls" situation, highly influenced by Dewey and I get to use an individualized creative approach with each adult student. It is a truly wonderful way to work. I can't imagine what it must be like to "teach to the test" and the other nonsense nowadays. My institution, Vermont College of Union Institute and University, has a teacher licensure program that follows Dewey's model and philosophy, for anyone who wants to follow up on these ideas.
Somerville, New Jersey
After watching "A Touch of Greatnesss" I could not stop the tears flowing from my eyes. I have rarely been so touched by a documentary. I immediately called my daughter who just started teaching second grade in New York City. The most disturbing discovery she made was the removal of art and music from the new curriculum. I think every school administrator should see this program. We need to change direction and Albert Cullum's legacy should be a major signpost.
I am the director of after-school programs at seven rural schools in northeast Vermont. I was glued to the television last night - the film was beautiful - the man extraordinary.
In this age of rigid attention to skills and scores, I have been looking for a way to illustrate the potential of after-school programs to engage, excite, and liberate students. Sharing the film with our staff will provide that spark.
San Francisco, CA
As the last seconds of "A Touch of Greatness" pass before my eyes (eyes filled with tears of gratitude and mourning for Albert Cullum) I can hardly believe what I have just seen and I feel so lucky to have watched this documentary.
I am moved beyond telling and I feel like Albert has allowed me to share in the same expansion of experience and learning as his students decades ago. He has touched me deeply.
His spirit is completely the human spirit and his courage and natural passion, his willingness to love and hold his children sacred, sets a standard for all of us to honor.
In a cynical world, in our wealthy nation with almost twenty percent of its children living in poverty, Albert's legacy is simple- tap into your humanity, remember your youthful curiosity and act! If we truly cared about each other as Albert did his students we would indeed act boldly to improve our world.
The student of Albert's who grew up and became a teacher remarked that certain populations of students were being prepared to be fry-cooks. At the school where I taught 6th grade, I used to say they were being prepared for the jail down the street. Always in trouble for my classroom being loud and kids not being in their seats, facing the front and only listening, my school failed to certify me as an alternative teacher certification candidate. They considered teaching methods putting the children in charge of their learning to be failures. The focus there was on walking in straight, silent lines down the hall and passing those ever-present tests.
I've read that there is an ever-present tension in the fight for public school pedgogy between the creatives, who constitute 1/4 of the teaching population, and the traditionalists, who make up the other 3/4. It's amazing we accomplish as much as we do, considering the odds are always against us. Keep up the good fight, teachers, for the sake of our kids and the sake of our future.
That was the most beautifully inspirational thing I have ever seen.
New York, NY
This is the authentic no child left behind.