Life has been unpredictable lately for band and choir teacher Brian McDaniel. The Palm Springs Teachers Association member’s dedication and commitment to providing opportunity to his students through music led to his being honored as a 2018 California Teacher of the Year.
Recently, he was named to the list of 50 international finalists for the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize and a $1 million award.
“Honestly, I was just happy to be Teacher of the Year at my school,” McDaniel says.
The Global Teacher Prize recognizes one exceptional educator who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession, and shines a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society as well. McDaniel is one of four teachers from the United States to be shortlisted for the grand prize, now in its fifth year and the largest award of its kind. The top 50 were selected from more than 10,000 inspiring educators from 179 countries. The 10 finalists will be announced in mid-February and will travel to Dubai for the award ceremony on March 24.
“My mom always told me I was one in a million,” McDaniel says. “Now, I can tell her I’m one in 100 million!”
McDaniel was inspired to teach by the problems he had to deal with in his own childhood, and the positive support and encouragement he received from educators. Born to teenage parents in a home where gun violence was a recurring theme, he experienced a string of tragic events that led to a period of homelessness and depression. But it began to turn around when McDaniel discovered the joy of music and teachers who supported and inspired him. Now he does the same for hundreds of students every year in the same low desert community where he was raised.
“ In my program, nobody pays
for anything. I never take no for an answer. I always find a way.”
“I create a space where every child can be successful,” McDaniel says. “I’m doing this so the kids in my community can shoot for the stars!”
At Painted Hills Middle School, McDaniel founded The Regiment — a student-led musical organization that helps students overcome life’s difficulties through music. McDaniel has built this group from the ground up to now more than 250 students who might otherwise not have exposure to playing music. Drawing from his own childhood experience when he couldn’t afford an instrument, McDaniel will not allow lack of money be an obstacle for any student who wants to join his band.
“In my program, nobody pays for anything,” says McDaniel, who has about 350 instruments on hand that he’s obtained in a variety of ways. “I never take no for an answer. I always find a way. I’ll go to jazz musicians and ask for their old instruments.”
The Regiment is nothing short of magical. McDaniel sees music as the key to helping students express their humanity and take chances in a supportive and respectful environment. The program has received more than 200 honors and awards, and acclaim from educators and conductors nationwide, who praise the musicianship and professionalism of McDaniel’s students.
“As teachers, we have the power to create success through opportunities. Never should a child leave our classroom feeling less than they arrived,” McDaniel says. “Every day, we need to find new ways for every student to feel the joy of success, as it only takes one great experience to change the trajectory of a child’s life.”