Harry Potter-themed class lands teacher in spotlight
Kyle Hubler won't admit it, but in some ways he's a lot like his favorite fictional character, Harry Potter.
Just like the boy wizard, Hubler — a special education math teacher at Evergreen Middle School — has found himself the focus of sudden attention from all around the globe.
Hubler made headlines over the past few weeks after he transformed his classroom into Hogwarts, the magical school made famous in the Harry Potter book series by author J.K. Rowling.
The walls have been decorated to look like stone, the ceiling has been covered in twinkling stars and everywhere you turn there is Harry Potter memorabilia or special magical items. Floating candles hang from the ceiling, just as they do in Hogwarts' great hall; the classroom's white board has been replaced with an old-fashioned chalkboard; and Hubler transformed his office into the sanctum of Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore.
After he finished decorating, Hubler posted photos of his classroom to Facebook, sharing them with friends and a few Harry Potter-themed groups online.
"I joked around with my colleagues that Buzzfeed was going to call," he said. "I didn't expect them to actually do it."
But call they did. Over the past month, Hubler has been featured by Entertainment Weekly, Good Housekeeping, Time magazine and ABC News. Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post have written stories about him, as has Good Morning America. He has been interviewed by reporters in New Zealand, England, Spain, Japan, China and Taiwan.
"Everybody around here keeps asking me, 'Is this ever going to die down?'" Hubler said. "I tell them that it has to, right? It still doesn't truly feel real to me how far it has spread. It happened so quickly. I had no idea that it would get as big as it got."
Hubler grew up reading the Harry Potter series as a boy, and said the books and movies resonate with people, particularly middle school students.
"I think every person somewhere inside of them questions their role in the world and where they fit in," he said. "I think what I always get out of the books is that the core group embraces everybody. They don't hesitate. They accept people and fight for the people who can't fight for themselves.
"Every time I go back and read it I have this comforting feeling of being exposed to these characters who are just so accepting of other people. It makes you feel like you are accepted as well and that there is a place for you to belong."
Hubler's students are in need of that more than others, he said.
"My students are part of the district's special education program, but a lot of times they don't feel special. They feel like they're in the dumb class," he said. "For that set of students to get something unique and truly special, that's just for them? That nobody else in the school gets? There's something really cool about that."
Hubler spent more than five weeks working on the classroom over the summer, but he said he'd do it again."For me, it's all about building connections with the students," he said. "The visual component of the classroom instantly shows them that this is a guy who actually cares about me having a good time in his class. Even if they don't consciously comprehend that, the message comes across. They can feel the love that I have for them, because I'm giving them something different that they can't get anywhere else."
Hubler said he believes his classroom decorations have been positive for his students.
"The typical reaction from a teen about school is that school sucks, but I wanted to change that script," he said. "If they're here we can start to build relationships and this gets them here. Then the hard work of building those bridges is what I really focus on."
The approach seems to be working, he said. Students no longer skip his classes, he said, and many of his students have been excited by the attention their teacher is getting.
"They keep telling me I'm famous," he said.
Not everyone has been supportive of the idea. Hubler said the international attention has brought some complaints from opponents of the books, who claim the school is promoting witchcraft.
"This is really just a look," he said. "I don't use this stuff when I'm teaching. I'm teaching math."
But after weeks in the national spotlight, some of the decorations in Hubler's classroom are likely to come down, Hubler said, after the local fire marshal warned of fire hazards.
Hubler called the Hillsboro Fire Department and asked officials to inspect his work, saying he suspected some of it might not be up to code.
"I asked them to come and give me some guidance," he said. "I'm a Hufflepuff. Doing the right thing is what we're about."
By Geoff Pursinger
Associate Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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