Steve Philbeck with some of his students. (back row, l-r) Hannah Fife, Steve Philbeck, Charles Thomas Jr., Sophie Young, and Alexander Lawton. (front row, l-r) Nicholas Petry and Laura Dzubay. Photo by Jim Krause


Teacher Steve Philbeck considers himself an entertainer, of sorts.

Some colleagues may cringe at that idea. But this Bloomington High School North social studies teacher says it goes with the job. And he relishes the chance to engage his students while he imparts knowledge and activates their minds.

After serving as director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monroe County and policy director of the Bloomington Boys and Girls Club, he decided to become a high school teacher and, at age 40, began his new career.

“I like all ages of kids, but I wanted to be with kids who have a greater capacity to understand the world and the interrelatedness of it. I wanted to be around serious thinkers.”

To engage young minds, Philbeck, now 59, entertains. In his “Stuff You Should Know” game he flashes a series of photos on a screen and asks students to identify them. “It’s a fun way to keep them busy at the end of the period,” he says. One picture series might include former President Bill Clinton as a child, Rocky the Flying Squirrel, and a meth lab. He sponsors North’s Brain Game and Academic Spell Bowl teams and runs an after-school movie series, called “Philbeck’s Phriday Phlicks.” He’s also created classes in ethnic studies and the history of the 1960s.

Philbeck spends a few minutes at the beginning of class asking students about their weekends, activities, and lives. “He takes the time to get to know students, and that’s something a lot of teachers don’t do,” says Taylor Hoke, 18, a senior who has taken two of Philbeck’s classes. “He’s not asking as a formality but because he really cares. He goes to sporting events and concerts of his students, too.”

Philbeck is direct when it comes to the meat of his objectives. “I want to be that guy who gets the right behavior out of kids, gets them focused to learn, and gets them engaged.”

That doesn’t include forcing students to memorize things like historic dates and state capitals.

“I want to help them understand the ‘whys’ of things,” says Philbeck. “If they can put an event into some context, that’s all I want. I’m teaching kids to be world citizens.”

Principal Jeffry Henderson praises Philbeck’s rapport with students, his classroom environment where students feel safe to express opinions, and his activities beyond the classroom. “He is an excellent asset to our school.”