2012: Eric G. Muller

Eric G. Muller isn’t your average high school teacher. He’s a published novelist, poet, playwright, songwriter and musician, on top of teaching humanities, English and drama at Hawthorne Valley High School. For his superhuman abilities and genuine commitment to education, Eric received the fourth annual James C. Kapteyn Prize.  

Before his 16-year career at Hawthorne Valley High School began, Eric spent eight years teaching lower-grade levels. He taught almost every subject, and he put as much emphasis on physical education and artistic pursuits as he did on academic courses. He brought the same teaching style to his high school students. From directing high school plays to traveling with the senior class to Italy, Eric never fails to create life-changing experiences for his students.  As an advisor, Eric interact with his students every day, checking on their academic progress, their general well-being and helping them set goals for the future. Many students testify that he is or was their most influential teacher, even beyond the high school level. Eric says it best himself. “Students need protection, love and truth, which will help draw forth the essence of their individuality, and, in turn, benefit the world. That’s why I teach.”

“When Kirsten Kapteyn told me that I had been selected for this year’s Kapteyn prize I wasn’t sure I had heard correctly, and did not quite know how to respond,” Eric says. “I was completely surprised by the decision and immediately thought of all the other wonderful teachers who are deserving of recognition. But most of all I was filled with gratitude and had this overwhelming feeling of having been touched by grace.”

“Year after year the Kapteyn Prize Selection Committee is utterly blown away and moved to tears reading about the extraordinary teachers at work in our region,” says Kirsten Kapteyn, wife of James Kapteyn, chair of the selection committee and the Associate Director of Admission at The Bement School in Deerfield, Mass. “Every nominee is worthy of the prize and choosing between them is excruciating. What distinguished Eric Muller is the uncommon depth of his love and respect for teenagers and his ‘existential’ devotion to his role as ‘midwife’ in their education. His passionate, joyful scholarship and artistry also compel and inspire us, as they do his students and colleagues. And, somehow, superhumanly, and with beautiful humility, Eric manages to play countless instruments, and incorporate his Renaissance Man skills into his classroom work, transcending the normal demands and expectations of the teaching life. We are thrilled and honored to award Eric the Kapteyn Prize.”