• Teacher Is Guitar Hero
    At Christenberry

    Posted by Josh Flory on 10/24/2018

    Christenberry Elementary students paid little attention when kindergarten teacher Michael “Mac” Comer ducked out of the classroom on a recent afternoon.

    But their ears perked up at the “whoop whoop” of a mini-siren, and they burst into frenzied cheers when Comer re-emerged wearing a crown, funky sunglasses and a red cape.

    That outfit is the guise of his alter ego, The Dean of Fun, and an appearance by the Dean is always a signal that the school day is about to get exciting.

    After leading his class into the hallway, Comer began opening the doors to other rooms, using a mini-bullhorn to announce a coupon book celebration happening in the courtyard. As he spread the word, his own students started chanting: “Par-TY, par-TY, par-TY!”

    In his 11th year as an educator, Comer has plenty of experience teaching students about reading, writing and math.

    But his side gig as a professional musician has helped build a classroom culture infused with the joy of music, and his comfort in the spotlight has boosted the fun factor at Christenberry.

    Comer grew up in Knoxville, and said that over the years several teachers were influential in his life. When he was deciding on a career track, education seemed like an obvious choice.

    He taught at Beaumont Elementary for six years, then moved to Denver and taught at Cheltenham Elementary School for four years before moving back to Knoxville for the current school year.

    At the same time, Comer is an accomplished singer-songwriter who has released three albums and performed at venues and events across the region, including the WDVX Blue Plate Special.

    While he took a performance hiatus for about two years, Comer is now in the midst of a comeback, including an all-ages Homecoming show planned in January at Barley’s.

    Music is integrated into his classroom in a variety of ways. He keeps a guitar on the wall, and will take it down to mark a transition from one topic to another or to celebrate a student accomplishment. On Fridays, he often plays an original song for his students, even if it’s not directly related to learning.

    For school-wide events, he’ll slip into character as the Dean of Fun, a role inspired by a teacher in Denver. Comer said the idea is to make learning as fun as possible, and to build interest in the parties Christenberry regularly hosts to promote positive behavior.

    “It makes me kind of wake up every morning and be like, ‘Okay, what can I do today that will just make these kids laugh their butts off?’” he said.

    Christenberry Elementary teacher Michael 'Mac' Comer plays the guitar for his kindergarten class on Oct. 4, 2018
    Christenberry Elementary teacher Michael 'Mac' Comer plays the guitar for his kindergarten class on Oct. 4, 2018

    Both strategies were displayed on an afternoon in early October. During his last class period of the day, Comer told students to warm up their “vocalizers”, and when a student was recognized for a positive accomplishment, the class sang together: “Who is a rock star? You, you, you, you.”

    When they gathered in auditorium-style seating at the front of the class, Comer grabbed the guitar and students sang the criss-cross applesauce song, a reminder about sitting still and getting ready to learn.

    But when it was time for the coupon celebration Comer switched to full-on Fun Mode, gathering students from throughout the wing and leading them to the courtyard for an opportunity to throw pies in teachers’ faces -- including his own.

    Christenberry principal Melissa Johnson said the school is just starting to see how Comer’s musicianship will impact the classroom, but that he’s a master at getting children excited about their studies.

    “It’s not all fun and games,” she added. “He really is very serious about teaching and learning and he has that unique ability to merge being such a fun person with a high expectation for learning in his classroom. I think that’s a real gift.”

    For his part, Comer said a lot of kids think teachers don’t have a life outside of school, but he tries to let them know that he’s a real person.

    “In this classroom, everybody’s a real person,” he added. “We all get a chance to share our thoughts and ideas and advocate for our needs … It’s really important that we share what we’re interested in, and what we’re not interested in, too.”

    Does your child's teacher have an interesting talent, hobby or spare-time pursuit? Send an email to joshua.flory@knoxschools.org, and they might be featured in our next installment of KCS Enthusiast. 

    In his role as the school's
    In a 2013 photo, singer-songwriter Mac Comer performs at Preservation Pub.