Teachers sing for students' affections
Votes are cast in quarters for a Teacher Idol at Pine View Middle School.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published April 13, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - Forget Sanjaya.
Chris Fowler is the idol of the moment at Pine View Middle School.
The ponytailed art teacher's twangy version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Gimme Three Steps was a clear favorite in the eighth week of the school's Teacher Idol contest, to hear the kids tell it. At lunch time, their votes - quarter donations to the American Cancer Society - filled his bucket much faster than those of his competitors, who sang slower, older and more off-key oldies.
"Mr. Fowler is the best so far," sixth-grader Tony Teresi said after listening to the three teacher contestants sing during morning announcements. "Mr. Fowler is definitely really good."
But is he the best? Or does the title of Pine View singing sensation go to another of the weekly winners? Students have to wait until a live performance after school April 20 to find out.
They're excited about the chance to see their teachers compete for the title.
"It's going to be wild. Crazy," seventh-grader Jasmine Banek said, after casting her quarter for Fowler. "All of our teachers are a little crazy. When you put them all together in one room..."
The contest is the brainchild of math teacher Margaret Fink, an admitted karaoke-aholic who often sings in class, just because. Fink leads the school's National Junior Honor Society , which is participating in the Cancer Society's Relay for Life, and decided to find a fun way to raise at least $2,500 for the cause.
In the first seven weeks, the friendly competition raised close to $2,000. Ticket sales to the finals - bleacher seats go for $3, backstage passes for $10 - promise to push the total over the goal. And that's before the actual relay kicks off April 27.
Assistant principal David Martindale, who got roped into performing and then won the second week - some kids said he got sympathy votes for being the assistant principal - said the event has many benefits beyond collecting donations for a good cause.
"The kids really want to watch the (school) news in the morning," he said, noting how that helps get out crucial information about the school.
The contest also "has changed the relationships between teachers and students," he added.
Any time you get students in a place where they are wanting to listen to the teachers is a positive benefit, Martindale said. "Plus, it's been a lot of fun."
For teachers like Elizabeth Neri, so far the leading overall vote-getter with her week five rendition of Martina McBride's In My Daughter's Eyes, that's true.
"When I sing, I find myself really more relaxed and it's something I enjoy doing," said Neri, who plans to go karaoke disc shopping before the finals, in search of the perfect song.
For others, including Fowler, the event was more nerve-wracking.
"I'm a little bit apprehensive about promoting myself to win," he said, explaining that he's not so sure about performing for a live audience.
That live audience can be harsh in a way that only middle schoolers can be. Just ask them what they thought about their teachers' singing efforts.
"One was tone deaf," sixth-grader Angelique Dorsey said. "I asked to turn the TV off."
"I just couldn't listen to one teacher," said Tony, the Fowler fan. "I actually thought my ears started to bleed. She had no talent."
"Some of them it's like, what were they thinking?" offered eighth-grader Megan Cubberly, who then added, "There were a couple that were really good."
Their views are obvious in their votes. While Neri netted more than $300 for her effort, one teacher got just 80 cents in support. Other teachers wouldn't name which one, but nodded knowingly when asked whether the dearth of votes was appropriate.
Simon Cowell might say that most of the contestants sing like teachers. Some flat, others off key. Some purposely ridiculously bad (like Sanjaya?). But that's not really the point.
"It's been a good bonding for the school," Fink said.
So what about a Student Idol?
"We're thinking about doing something next year," Fink said.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.