Magic is the trick to teacher's popularity
Sporting a black jacket and holding a vase full of water, Chris Homer steps through the crowd of 30 girls seated in the lobby of the Huntington Holiday House sleepaway camp. He gives each girl a look inside the vase.
At first, they just see water. Then, splash! Homer spills the water into a pail below and places the vase on a stand. But Homer explains that the water symbolizes hope, and since he senses the group’s hope is strong, the vase will gradually refill itself.
Moments later, it’s full to the brim.
“How does he do that?,” one girl asks another.
“Magic,” he says.
The Holiday House is just one of numerous Long Island places Homer, 50, of Cold Spring Harbor, does volunteer performances.
But his magic isn’t exclusive to the stage.
Before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in art from Adelphi University in 1984, Homer took the NYPD entrance exam and passed. But instead of training to become an officer, he spent four months as a disc jockey in the Virgin Islands.
A friend then suggested teaching. He was hesitant at first, but decided to pursue the idea, and in 1986, he began substitute teaching art classes at George C. Tilyou Junior High School in Brooklyn.
Homer immediately felt like he was in over his head.
“Class was pretty much me screaming at the kids and them getting away with murder because I had no idea what I was doing,” Homer said. “I was dying for a way to get their attention when I saw a magic special on TV and said to myself, ‘What about magic?' ”
Homer bought two tricks at The Magic Shop in Hicksville and practiced until he got them down pat before trying them on the class.
“The first time I did a trick for my students they had that look of wonder in their eyes and it hooked me,” he said. “I couldn’t believe that I could do that, to get them to make that face, it just gave me the fever.”
Family parties became excuses for Homer to practice his tricks, and he continued treating students to a trick after each lesson.
In 1987, Homer decided he wanted to teach health -- something his mother had done for 34 years at Adelphi University, and he earned a master’s degree in the subject in 1988 from the same school.
A year later, he began teaching health for kindergarten to eighth grade classes at schools across Nassau County for the Health Education Program for Prevention, which is run by the Diocese of Rockville Centre and the Nassau County Office of Mental Health, Chemical Dependency and Developmental Disabilities Services.
In 1990, he began teaching at Adelphi before moving to Hofstra University in 1993. He started at the Cold Spring Harbor Central School District in 1995, and has been there since.
Homer incorporated magic tricks into his lessons, including when dealing the topic of drugs. That’s when he brings out a “hallucination wheel,” which simulates the effects of drugs like LSD. He has the class focus on the center of a black-and-white spiral wheel, spins it four times, then tells the group to focus on his head.
“When we looked up his head got bigger, it was crazy,” said Brandon Seider, 16, of Cold Spring Harbor, who had Homer in seventh and tenth grades. “He always has the perfect demonstrations for the topic he’s teaching and it really keeps everyone drawn in.”
While his magic is a selling point, it’s Homer’s general ability to connect with students that has made him one of the most popular teachers at Cold Spring Harbor, Seider said.
He’s also a popular act outside of school. One of his favorite places to perform is at the group home of a former Cold Spring Harbor teacher’s brother.
“During Chris’ shows you can really just see how joyful the people at the home are,” said Suzanne Feustel, 60, of Babylon, whose brother, Stephen Feustel, is developmentally disabled. “Whenever he surprises them with a trick, you can just see their faces light up with joy and it’s wonderful.”
One of Homer’s favorite tricks involves transforming a single flower into a full bouquet with the help of a volunteer.
At a show Caumsett State Park in Lloyd Harbor in July, Homer invited a young girl from the audience to the stage and handed her a magic wand. He took out a flower, which he stood up and covered with an empty vase. Then he asked the girl to wave the wand over the vase and -- after counting to three -- he lifted the vase. By design, nothing happened, and the flower flopped to the side.
Homer encouraged the girl to try once more. Again, no bouquet.
On the third and final effort, Homer concealed the flower, but this time asked the volunteer to tap the vase with the wand before waving it over the top.
One, two, three. The vase is lifted and a bouquet emerges.
“That moment right there is just perfect,” Homer said. “The look on that person’s face when they see the flowers emerge is just priceless. In that moment you can tell they truly believe in magic and that’s why I do what I do.”