Sunday, February 22, 2009


…and apparently spelling doesn’t count at the Daily News!

By Dennis McCarthy, Columnist | Los Angeles Newspaper Group

02/21/2009 When producers of the 1995 hit movie "Mr. Holland's Opus" and its star, Richard Dreyfuss, were looking for a young, vibrant music teacher to model the movie's leading character after, they stopped by Robert Eisenhart's music class at Van Nuys High School.

They sat quietly in the back for a few days, taking notes and observing Eisenhart having fun while he motivated and interacted with his young students.

Pretty heady stuff for a rookie 26-year-old teacher who had only been in the profession himself two years. When you're good, word spreads fast.

"I had no idea how big the movie would be or the impact it would have on the lives of so many music teachers and students, including mine," Eisenhart said Friday.

"It looks like we've come full circle."

Yes, it does. On Thursday afternoon, while Van Nuys High's own real Mr. Holland was in class working his magic with the advanced orchestra, Judith Vanderbok, the school's principal, called a timeout. She had a big, surprise announcement to make.

Their beloved Mr. Eisenhart was being given a prestigious national award from the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, which donates new and refurbished musical instruments to schools and individual students to benefit their music education.

Eisenhart was only one of five music teachers across the country chosen for the honor.

The stunned teacher smiled as foundation officials lauded him for "best emulating the personal characteristics and dedication of (the movie's) "Mr. Holland."

He thanked them, and smiled even wider when they handed him a check for $10,000.

Fifteen years after giving Hollywood a few tips on what a real young, motivating and inspiring music teacher looks and acts like, Robert Eisenhart was finally getting paid.

Watching the scene from the back of the music room Thursday was another of the school's music teachers, Brian McGaffey - one of nine former students of Eisenhart who are currently teaching music in the Los Angeles Unified School District. There are a dozen others nationwide.

"If it wasn't for him as my teacher, I probably would have quit music," McGaffey says, watching his mentor's surprise reaction to the award.

"He sacrifices so much to his students, stays at school until 7 p.m. every night for any kid who needs extra help."

"Nice guy?" I ask McGaffey. He smiles and shakes his head no.

"Nice doesn't describe him. Demanding does, but in a good way."

Isn't that what a good teacher is supposed to be, Eisenhart asks later. Demanding. He learned that from his own mentors in LAUSD.

When he demands 11 or 12 hours of himself at school every day, it rubs off on his students. They can see for themselves what success is going to take.

"Yes, I can be hard to work with, demanding, like Mr. Holland," the 41-year-old bachelor says. "I enjoy pushing myself. I like to think the standards I set for myself speak to my students.

"You have to be passionate in this job, committed to it. Bach, Mozart, so many other great composers and musicians dedicated themselves to the craft of teaching."

So what's Mr. Holland, er, Eisenhart, going to do with the 10 grand?

"There's a place in northwest Spain, Galicia it's called, where they have an ancient bagpipe culture," he says, smiling.

"Might be nice to spend a couple of weeks there and bring back what I learn to my students."

Thank you, Mr. Eisenhart.

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