A TOUCH OF GREATNESS
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“Teachers can be bearers of gifts. 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.” 
—Albert Cullum
A classroom full of Albert Cullum’s students, all seated at their desks and raising their hands in the air. Albert Cullum, dressed in a suit and tie, talks to one a boy in class.

As a trailblazer in American education, Albert Cullum 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. Cullum believed that the classroom could be a place where excitement and productivity were linked, and as the archival footage in A TOUCH OF GREATNESS shows, mystery and magic can indeed have a place in an elementary school, creating an atmosphere for effective learning that traditional lesson plans cannot.

The cover of The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On, with a teacher in a mask seated at her desk.

Albert Cullum wrote numerous books on children’s education, including the following titles:

Push Back the Desks
(MacMillan, 1967)
This classic book contains innovative ideas for all elementary school grades and curricula, including the “grammar hospital” seen in A TOUCH OF GREATNESS.

Shake Hands with Shakespeare
(Scholastic, 1968)

Cullum’s revisions of eight Shakespeare plays includes tips for costumes and staging.

Greek Tears and Roman Laughter:
Ten Tragedies and Five Comedies for Schools

(Citation Press, 1970)
Cullum’s famous adaptations of Greek and Roman classics for budding dramatists of all ages.

Aesop in the Afternoon
(Citation Press, 1972)

These sixty-plus dramatizations of Aesop’s fables are suitable for younger students and include staging suggestions.

Murphy, Molly, Max and Me
(Delacorte, 1976)
In this fictional work, a child's friends, a dog, a doll, and a frog visit his teacher to see if they can work together to help him with a school problem.

You Think Just Because You're Big, You're Right
(Harlin Quist, 1976)
Text and pictures examine the inconsistent behavior of “big” adults towards children.

Greek and Roman Plays for the Intermediate Grades
(Fearon Teacher Aids, 1993)
Cullum’s versions of ancient plays are adaptable for school children, but preserve the content of the originals.

The Geranium On The Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On
(Harlin Quist Books, 2000)
Written in 1971 and reprinted in 2000, this best-selling and timeless commentary on teachers and education is inspiring and illustrative of Cullum’s philosophy.

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Cullum believed that elementary school children are open to greatness, gravitating to ideas at a young age. “I’ve used the phrase ‘a touch of greatness’ often,” he said in the film. “I think everyone has a touch of greatness within them…. The trouble is, sometimes we don’t help children sense it. If it’s sensed early it really has an impact upon all of their lifetime. It becomes a non-destructive life, rather than a destructive life.” By supporting the idea that children are interested in the classics—in poets and playwrights, in stories of revolutions and heroic deeds—Cullum proved that new doors to learning can be opened if educators transcend teaching models that limit artistic and intellectual experiences.

Cullum’s Teaching Career

Cullum's varied career as an educator began in the 1940s, when, after attempting to “make it” as a Broadway actor, he landed a job teaching at St. Luke’s School in New York City’s Greenwich Village. “I knew after the first month [at the job that] something was missing,” he said. “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 St. Luke’s, Cullum taught at the Midland School in Rye, New York, a suburb of New York City, from 1956 to 1966. It was during this time that he and his friend Robert Downey, Sr. filmed the footage seen in A TOUCH OF GREATNESS. Cullum then went on to become a professor of education at Boston University and Stonehill College, a liberal arts college in Massachusetts. At Stonehill, he trained future teachers for more than 30 years, including Leslie Sullivan, the director of A TOUCH OF GREATNESS.

In addition to his teaching, Cullum 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, which sold over half a million copies, and Push Back the Desks, considered a classic in the field of education.

After teaching his final class for the semester in May 2003, Cullum’s health began to fail. He passed away on July 13, 2003, shortly after completing filming for A TOUCH OF GREATNESS.

Find out about some of the students Cullum influenced >>

Learn more about Cullum’s lessons >>


Albert Cullum, dressed in a blue shirt, tie, and suspenders, sits in a chair and talks to the camera.


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