Chalkboard Champion Albert Cullum: He Introduced an Element of Play Into the Curriculum

teacher_recentOftentimes a gifted educator serves as an inspiration not only for his students, but for other teachers as well. Such is certainly the case for chalkboard champion Albert Cullum.

Albert Cullum was born in November of 1921. His career as an educator began in the 1940’s, after a failed attempt at a career as a Broadway actor. He accepted a teaching position at St. Luke’s School in Greenwich village in New York City, but quickly realized this would be no easy gig. “I knew after the first month [at the job that] something was missing,” he once confessed. “I realized, ‘I’m not having fun. If I’m not having fun, no one in the room is having fun’…. I realized there should be more play during the day… more learning that is playful.” After that, the neophyte educator completely changed his style of teaching. Instead of the prevailing Dick and Jane style, he opted to introduce his children to classic literature such as Shakespeare and Greek drama.

After St. Luke’s, Albert taught at the Midland School in Rye, New York, a suburb of New York City, from 1956 to 1966. As a trailblazer in American education, Albert ignited the imagination of countless young students. Through his passionate use of poetry and drama, he helped build students’ self-confidence and inspired them to new heights of originality and joy. It was during this time that he and his close friend Robert Downey, Sr., filmed the footage seen in the movie A Touch of Greatness, an Emmy-nominated documentary about Albert’s work in the classroom.

Eventually Albert became a professor of education at Boston University and Stonehill College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts. At Stonehill, he trained aspiring teachers for more than thirty years. In addition to his teaching, Albert worked with the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services using poetry and drama as a therapeutic tool for incarcerated male and female adolescents. He also authored numerous books on education, including The Geranium On The Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On (Harlin Quist Books: 2000), which sold over half a million copies, and Push Back the Desks (MacMilan: 1967), considered a classic in the field of education.

After teaching his final class for the semester in May, 2003, Albert’s health began to fail. The innovative and prolific educator passed away on July 13, 2003.”Teachers can be the bearers of gifts,” Albert once said. “Not only do we have the privilege of introducing great literature to young imaginative minds, but we also have the priceless opportunity of giving each child the gift of believing in him or herself.”