Why Bill Nye, and Others Like Him, are Rockstars

How does Bill Nye maintain rockstar status nearly two decades past when he first appeared on PBS?

By Jen Lilienstein


My autographed brochure

A couple years back, at the National Afterschool Association convention, Bill Nye was the keynote speaker. Even though it was nearly two decades ago when Bill Nye the Science Guy first appeared on PBS, he packed a giant ballroom full of fans like they were packed into a can of sardines. In my book, and in the opinion of nearly one thousand others in Florida that day, Bill Nye had rock star status.

Fast forward a half-hour post-speech, I had the honor of having a booth adjacent to where Bill Nye was autographing books. The line wound through the exhibit space and people waited for hours to have Bill autograph their books and DVDs as the bow-tied dynamo scribbled furiously on all the items placed in front of him.

I was so excited that we took pictures and posted them on our Facebook fan page wall. It wasn’t just something in the air in Florida that day, “likes” quickly started to pop up in response to my photo posts. It seemed that Bill had touched many of our lives in ways that rippled out decades past the last time we saw him on television or read his books.

Enth-ooh!-siasm is the Key

Why was Bill Nye such an important educator to me and countless others—even if we’d never been in the same room with him before? It wasn’t just because he was on TV, because there were many like him—both before and after he arrived on the scene—that I no longer remember. Quite simply, his passion, not just for science, but for learning and discovery in general oozes out of every pore. It’s the same enthusiasm that brings to mind individuals like Steve Corwin, Steve Spangler, and Erin Gruwell. It’s the Ooh! spark that many leaders in the afterschool community are able to light in their students even after they have been in school for seven hours. And it’s the zeal that the best educators in every school bring to their classrooms every single day of the year.

You can know what you’re teaching inside and out, but it’s enthusiasm that’s the infectious component. If your own passion for learning doesn’t spill out of your lessons, the kids won’t catch the bug. You can lead those horses to water and keep ‘em tied up at the stream of knowledge running past, but if you’re not drinking the refreshing water yourself and demonstrating just how delicious it is, they likely won’t drink it either. If you show students that you’re a lifelong learner yourself, and allow them to see your passion for learning spill out, chances are good that they will stay by the water and keep drinking—even after school is over.

Enth-ooh!-siasm Doesn't Have to be Loud

It doesn’t mean you have to have to be over-the-top or crazy during your lessons. Think of Mr. Rogers—he showed quiet passion rather than exuberance, and he inspired just as many kids. In my mind, some key factors come into play when I think about people who have moved me personally:

  • Personal Narrative: Not just on one occasion, but throughout the year, people I admire tell me about something new they’re learning that takes courage and determination to "try, try again."
  • Accentuate the Positive: Reinforcing through personal narrative that it’s not just hard work and determination that’s required, but the ability to maintain a good attitude during learning adventures.
  • Sharing is Caring: Finally, I love the people that share their "show and tell" excitement of discovery and achievement that they can share with others.

A Final Thought to Consider

If you take a step back and look at these elements as they relate to making a memorable teacher, you might notice that they are also the elements that make for a good story. An imperfect, yet relatable hero or heroine, a challenge or two to overcome, several attempts to overcome those challenges in different ways, and ultimately, a happy ending not just for the hero, but for those on the journey with him. An interesting parallel. Look below for some other ideas for inspiring enthusiastic teachers and writers. 

Lesson Planet Resources:

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Part One: A Truly Inspirational Book List for Teachers

A list of books that have caused significant changes in the way this author-teacher approaches teaching, manages his classroom, and delivers curriculum. It’s a quirky list on which you might not find books you’ve heard about.

Part Two: A Truly Inspirational Book List for Teachers

A few books with, collectively, hundreds of ideas to spark a passion for learning in your students. Ideas that will leave you thinking, "With some ingenuity, creativity, and perseverance, I can do anything with my class."