Ben Case, a high school music teacher, joined the ranks of the teaching profession 17 years ago not to teach music, but to teach students.
“This philosophy is how I approach every aspect of my teaching,” said Case, a Cal State Fullerton alumnus.
For his impact on students and for exceeding expectations during a difficult time in education, Case was selected as California’s 2023 Teacher of the Year. He is one of five statewide educators recognized with the award for their extraordinary teaching careers.
“I’m truly honored,” Case said. “I hold my colleagues in such high esteem and I am inspired by them on a daily basis. The relationships I have forged with my students and colleagues are by far the greatest rewards.
Case ’05, ’10 (BM Instrumental Music Performance, MM Music Performance) is a teacher of instrumental music and music theory at Northwood High School in the Irvine Unified School District. He is director of instrumental music for Northwood’s music program, which has received seven Grammy Signature School Awards and serves 500 students.
He conducts the Symphony Wind Orchestra, Philharmonic Orchestra, School Symphony Orchestra and one of four jazz ensembles, and co-directs the marching band and color party of 220 students. Case also teaches the Advanced Music Theory class, and for the past 13 years has served as Head of the Arts Department.
Case, who studied music education and completed CSUF’s music degree program in 2007, is also a practicing musician. He mainly plays saxophone, but also euphonium, tuba, clarinet, trumpet and percussion. For his 40th birthday, he learned to play the bagpipes so that he could perform alongside his students at a concert.
“Through all of my experiences, I work with incredibly talented students and colleagues in an atmosphere that constantly pushes the bar of what’s possible,” Case said.
Why did you enter the teaching profession?
I grew up surrounded by strong educators. Before retiring in 2016, my father, Jim Case, was director of CSUF’s Career Center and helped students find their way after graduation. My mother was a children’s librarian who helped children with learning disabilities. My brother works for the Vermont State Department of Education and previously worked for the National Department of Education and as a classroom visual arts teacher. I’ve seen firsthand the difference one teacher can make – and I want to make that difference for someone else.
What are the challenges and rewards of teaching?
Teaching has been challenging on many levels given the ever-changing guidelines around COVID-19 precautions. We’ve had to have an incredible level of flexibility in our teaching – from learning sound engineering software and teaching students to create virtual sets to buying Home Depot buckets for teach everyone to play the drums. But even with these daily challenges, it was hard not to be inspired by the resilience and perseverance of our students. Their compassion and willingness to reinvent their experiences constantly reminded me why I chose this profession.
What are the high marks as a music teacher?
I’ve conducted a lot of gigs and events and there will always be certain pieces or performances that stand out. But what matters most to me are the people with whom I have been able to share these experiences. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down, I dressed in formal wear and went door to door to my students’ homes and played “Pomp and Circumstance” on my saxophone. I will always remember the looks on my students’ faces when their neighbors came out to see what was going on. Last summer, I hosted an alumni concert for my students who were unable to perform on our stage due to the pandemic. About 60 music and orchestra students, some of whom hadn’t touched their instruments since graduating, turned out for a weekend of musical creation and reconnection. It made me understand why I teach.
What are some of your favorite CSUF memories?
There are so many to whom I owe so much, but my mentors Mitch Fennell (professor emeritus of music) and James Rötter (lecturer emeritus of music) left an indelible mark on who I am as an educator, a father and a human being. . In college, I remember playing at the small theater before the construction of the Meng concert hall, and then participating in the first concert given to Meng. I also love coming back and playing, whether it’s in the alumni band or bringing my own students to play on that same stage at shared gigs.
How has your education at CSUF prepared you for your teaching career?
I had an amazing experience at CSUF, both as an undergraduate and graduate student. From amazing teachers and mentors to passionate classmates, I have always felt supported and challenged to reach my own potential. As a graduate student, I remember feeling like my education was much less about finding the answer, and more about learning to ask the right questions. This turned into a lifelong desire to learn and grow.