A music and choir teacher from Unit 5 is one of 10 nominated to be the 2019 Illinois Teacher of the Year.
Ben Luginbuhl has spent all 21 years of his career in Unit 5. Though he primarily teaches at Normal Community High School (NCHS), Luginbuhl has taught vocal and general music at all grade levels across the district.
"I've always had music in me and it's always been something that's been—it's a gift I've been given. And I just am thankful for it."
Luginbuhl said he grew up singing in church and worshiping through harmonies.
"It was just something that I always wanted to do," he said. "I remember my freshman year of high school, I realized that being a music teacher just sounded really awesome ... I always tell my students I'm a very rare person in that I knew when I was 14 that this is the job I wanted to do, and I have loved it all those years."
Though he always loved music, it's a former social studies teacher that stands out most from his years as a student at Roanoke-Benson High School.
"He said, 'Think outside of the corn and bean fields of Central Illinois.' And would challenge us to broaden our world and broaden our knowledge," Luginbuhl said. "He was always telling us to raise the bar and to dig deeper into what we knew."
It was that social studies teacher that inspired Luginbuhl as a child and still mentors him today.
Aside from thinking outside of the box, he believes in maintaining high standards for students in his classroom.
"Just challenging the students to think beyond what they think they can do," Luginbuhl said. "When you know them as well as I do, as they're developing over the four years, it's nice. I can usually have a sense of where their limits are and where I can keep pushing them."
He said the amount a teacher cares about their students is one of the greatest impacts they can make.
"I think that a lot of people think that teaching is teacher in the front of the room and kids just sitting at their desks, when it really isn't like that at all," Luginbuhl said. "We're working with the kids. We know all their strengths and weaknesses, and we tailor it as best we can in the classroom to the students that are in it."
He said it's not always easy, but it's worth it.
"It's so rewarding when you can see that lightbulb go off or have one of those a-ha moments. You know, something that's been really challenging for the class and then they sing it, they get it right," Luginbuhl said. "And then they're excited and I'm excited, and I'd take that any day over a concert performance because that's when I get really excited about what I do."
Luginbuhl is the only choir director at NCHS. That means he works with students throughout their high school choir careers.
"They come in as freshman and I get to hear them grow all the way through their senior year. And that is so neat to watch them start out maybe a little timid or just have the typical 14-year-old voice, and then to hear them and see them and watch them grow and then get to know them really closely," he said.
Before his statewide nomination, Luginbuhl was first nominated within the district.
"I didn't even know I had been nominated," he said. "Just to know that my principal had nominated me, it meant a whole lot. It's really humbling, too."
Luginbuhl said he views his nomination as an opportunity to be an ambassador for the district and NCHS, making sure to acknowledge the great teachers he works with.
The 2019 Illinois Teacher of the Year will be announced Oct. 20. Luginbuhl is one of 10 nominees.
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