Ben Luginbuhl, who is affectionately known as Mr. L by his students, has been teaching music in McLean County Unit School District 5 for 21 years. Ben has taught students in grades 9-12 at Normal Community High School (NCHS) for the past five years. He teaches vocal music, AP music theory, and American popular music.

Ben is a National Board Certified educator who believes in developing trusting relationships and educating the whole student. He says that his work with the National Board Certification process challenged his thinking as a teacher, and “now I am much more focused on what and how the students are learning more than I am about how ‘good’ my program looks to the outside or how I look as a teacher.”

Ben’s nominator describes the choir program as “more of a family than a class.” Many of his students are in chorus all four years of high school so he has the opportunity to really get to know them. One of his students wrote that “Mr. L creates an environment where the person comes first, even before classwork starts. Every week, each person talks through a high and a low to create a sense of family within choir.”

NCHS is home to the district’s English as a Second Language program. Throughout the school year, students from other countries enter the school, often with little to no formal education experience. Ben has opened his doors to these students and welcomes them to his choir program, regardless of their singing abilities or musical knowledge. He finds ways to overcome the language barriers in the classroom and he takes the time to incorporate the various cultures of English Learner students through music selection and student involvement in the class.

Ben began his journey to becoming a teacher when he was a high school freshman. His determination, passion, compassion, and empathy combined with his musical talents made him a natural for his role. In choir, he pairs upperclassmen with underclassmen to create a real camaraderie among all students. A parent wrote about her son, who is autistic and not a vocalist, “Ben was instrumental in helping my son see music as an outlet for expression and good influence in his life, thus giving him a greater ability to communicate his feelings in a positive way.”

Ben goes above and beyond in his role as a teacher, mentor, and leader. One of his students describes him this way: “He is not just a stand-out teacher. He is not just a stand-out person. He is a living example of both.”

Ben is one of 10 finalists for Illinois Teacher of the Year, who will be named at the Those Who Excel banquet in Normal on October 20.