In a Class of Their Own
They instill a love of learning, offer encouragement in facing a new challenge and even push us toward a particular path in life. The following six teachers will be remembered long after their students have left their classrooms.
Jason McFeaters, Chorus, North Bethesda Middle School
The 8:40 a.m. chorus class at North Bethesda Middle School is part choir practice, part musical theater, with Jason McFeaters playing the lead role.
Class starts with the song “Hi, My Name Is Joe,” which turns the group of some 65 kids into a giggling mass of whirling limbs. McFeaters barks at the sopranos to “keep it light” and at the baritones to “flex their muscles.” He doesn’t match his students in energy, he surpasses them as he skips, shouts and sings his way through warm-ups.
But when the class finally turns to its performance pieces, the chaos subsides and the polished harmony that has won the choir superior ratings at county and state competitions emerges.
A concert saxophonist who occasionally performs with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, McFeaters first taught middle school because he needed the health insurance as a doctoral student at the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. He found his “hyper, scatterbrained, crazy-guy personality just seemed to work with middle school.”
McFeaters started six years ago with 28 kids at North Bethesda. Today he has 220. Nicknamed “McAwesome” by his students, he chaperones school trips, sits with the kids at lunch and even runs the mile with them in gym class.
Principal Alton Sumner jokes that a false rumor about McFeaters leaving “just about sparked a riot” among parents at a principal’s coffee last December.
“People fight to get their kids into the class when it’s full,” says James Parker of Bethesda, whose two sons took McFeaters’ class.
McFeaters, 33, says his goal is not just to make the kids better singers, but to “access a different part of who they are” through music.
"In this area, kids are so high-strung and academically stressed out,” says McFeaters, who lives in Potomac with his two sons and his wife, Arianna, a teacher at the Primary Day School in Bethesda. “I have nothing against taking five math classes. I just think there’s something they get in the music department that they won’t get anywhere else in their life.”