“A Noteworthy Teacher,” Ensign, Oct. 1997, 60–61
In Rich Christensen’s office at Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona, hangs a sampler that says, “You don’t have to practice every day … only on the days that you eat.—Shinichi Suzuki.” His daughter Susan stitched this quote for her father because, Brother Christensen says, “She knows what a stickler I am for practice.” Nevertheless, Brother Christensen attracts teenagers the way the latest CD does.
“Mr. C.,” as his students affectionately call him, teaches gospel concepts in a musical context. He does not tolerate vulgar language or actions in his classroom, explaining, “My students know they have to respect each other.” And when students ask for advice, he emphasizes the importance of high standards. Though Mesa was founded by Latter-day Saints, only 8 percent of Dobson High’s 3,200 students are Church members. “I have most of my students for three years, so I impact their values,” Brother Christensen says.
He inspires hard work and excellence in those he teaches. His symphonic orchestra was selected to play in the “World’s Largest Concert,” aired by PBS in March—the first time a public school musical group had been invited to perform in this annual event. They also received an invitation to perform in Chicago for approximately 10,000 music teachers from all over the world, and their achievements have been touted twice in Music Educators Journal, a national magazine.
Recently Brother Christensen received a teacher fellowship through the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Kjerstin (Kiki) Schaub is one former student for whom Mr. C. made a difference. In fact, in an essay for an English class she described him as the person who most influenced her life goals. “When I have felt unable to perform, he has expressed his faith in my ability,” she wrote. “He tells us how much he cares about us, and he lets us know that he is there for us if we need him. … I am indebted to him for … showing me the satisfaction of a life dedicated to serving and sharing with others.”
Not surprisingly, Brother Christensen is involved musically in his ward. He serves as choir director in the Alma 13th Ward, Mesa Arizona West Stake.—Gayla Wise, Mesa, Arizona