Dutchtown teacher utilizes musical talents in classroom

Andrea Alexander
Dutchtown High School teacher Julian Surla uses creative and unusual methods to interest his students in history and social studies. One of his students painted the school mascot Griffin mural on the wall of his classroom.

Dressed in a Hawaian shirt and an orange hat, Julian Surla wandered the halls of Dutchtown High School the day of Homecoming. Accompanied by his guitar, Surla cranked out rock and blues tunes for the student masses. His goal was to fire up the students for the big football game, and he had all the talent and nerve needed to do the job. The only thing this modern-day minstrel lacked was a lute.

Surla, by the way, is not a student.

He’s an unorthodox 11th grade teacher who uses his range of charismatic talents to get students loving a class they might normally fall asleep in – history.

A rock musician in the band Eyes of the South by night, Surla makes the halls of Dutchtown High School into another stage by day – but it’s not just because he loves the limelight.

“I wanted to be a rock star when I was younger, but then I realized I was broke,” he grinned.

Thanks to that moment of enlightened self-interest, Surla created an innovative teaching style that draws out the unique talents of each student he teaches and interests them in the lessons of history.

During his teaching tenure at Destrehan High School, Surla organized a group of boys into a heavy metal band that performed at various school functions.

“These teenagers were dying to play live, but couldn’t because of their age. These guys were better musicians than I am. They deserved the chance to perform, even if it was for pep rallies and talent shows,” Surla says.

Never one to care if people disapprove of him, Surla still keeps his classroom curriculum entirely “legit,” to the extent that he was recently awarded a $1,000 grant from the Ascension Fund agency.

He purchased video cameras and equipment for his students to use in their year-long news broadcast history project. Students formed groups that were each assigned a decade from the 1900s. Their task? Over the course of the year, research 10 major news events of that decade and create a broadcast segment of a particular event, along with three commercials featuring contemporary products.

His project won the 2009 Ascension Fund Award in April because of its creativity in enhancing curriculum and its real-world application.

In the meantime, this rock musician-cum-history teacher has a life outside of his lessons. To hear some funky music, check out Eyes of the South at Brew Ha Ha, the Fat Cat Saloon, or Onezia Upscale Lounge.

Considering Surla’s urge to merge drama, music, and history, you might just hear him plucking a lute. Or not.