Top 5 Songs That Define Teachers’ World Views

Teachers are a very optimistic group by nature. Who wouldn’t be when you have the world’s future sitting in small desks before you, beaming with potential? While each student presents a unique challenge, collectively, they are our legacy, and there is a lot to be hopeful about.

It’s not surprising then that when ThinkFives and ESGI surveyed teachers about songs that best define their worldview, they were all upbeat songs. 

Ranging from gospel numbers to Disney songs, these tunes reflect the optimistic view of our elementary school teachers.

Oh Happy Day

Recorded: 1967

Genre: Gospel

Released: 1968 (April 1969, US.)

Songwriter: Edwin Hawkins, based on a 1775 gospel song

Based on a mid-18th century hymn, the song was first released by Oakland-based choir leader Edwin Hawkins in 1967. But the initial reaction from church leaders was much concern – they thought it too jazzy and secular for church music. But that soon changed.

“Oh Happy Day” was recorded as part of an album entitled “Let Us Go Into the House of the Lord” and was intended as a fundraiser for the church. But when a Bay Area rock radio station began spinning the song, it became an unlikely local hit, then landed on national radio, charting as high as number four on the US Billboard Hot 100. 

At the same time, “Sister Act 2” debuted, and when Whoopi Goldberg led a choir of students who belted out a joyous, stomping rendition of “Oh Happy Day,” the song became a classic.

Stand by Me

Recorded: October 27, 1960

Released: April 24, 1961; 1986 (re-released for 1986 as the Movie Soundtrack)

Genre: R&B; soul‎;‎

Songwriters:  Benjamin King, Jerome Leiber, Michael Stoller

Keeping to the gospel origin theme, “Stand By Me’ was first registered by Charles Albert Tindley, a Philadelphia minister, in 1905. However, many believe the song goes back even with roots in the 19th century.

The version most of us would recognize was initially performed in 1961 by singer-songwriter Ben E. King. According to King, the title is derived from, and was inspired by, a spiritual song written by Sam Cooke and JW Alexander called “Stand by Me Father” And ‘Psalm 46.

Some 25 years after the song first became a hit, it was given a new lease of life by Rob Reiner, who directed a movie called The Body. He was searching for a new name for his coming-of-age film, so he  called it Stand By Me and used the song.

Thanks to the movie, Stand by Me was a top 10 hit for King in 1986 for a second time, after initially climbing the charts in 1961.

We Are Family

Recorded: 1978

Released: April 1979

Genre: Disco, ‎soul‎

Songwriters: Bernard Edwards, Nile Rodgers

The 70’s group, Sister Sledge, found a signature song in “We Are Family.” Composed by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers, the music was offered to several groups before Sister Sledge agreed to record it.

According to Joni Sledge, “We Are Family was like a one-take party – we were just dancing and playing around and hanging out in the studio when we did it.” The song hit the airwaves, and We Are Family went gold and all the way to #1 on the charts. It became the #2 pop song of the year, trailing only Hot Stuff by Donna Summer.

The song also became the inspiration for the Pittsburgh Pirates that same summer. Mired in a slump, Willie Stargell had the song played during a rain delay and named the official song of the Pittsburgh Pirates on the centerfield scoreboard. The team kept playing and rode it to a world championship that fall.

We Are the World

Recorded: January 28, 1985

Songwriters: Michael Jackson; ‎Lionel Richie‎

Producers: Quincy Jones; ‎Michael Omartian‎

In response to a famine in Africa in 1985, Harry Belafonte had the idea to organize the recording of a song including all the generation’s best-known music artists. Inspired by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?Quincy Jones was drafted to co-produce the song.

He enlisted recording superstars Michael Jackson and ‎Lionel Richie‎ to write the song. He also convinced many of the top artists of the day to participate. According to the History channel, “With only one chance to get the recording the way he and songwriters Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie wanted it, Jones convened the marathon recording session of ‘We Are the World’ at around 10 p.m. on the evening of January 28, 1985, immediately following the conclusion of the American Music Awards ceremony held just a few miles away.”

The charity single was released in March 1985 and rocketed to #1 with sales in excess of 20 million copies. The megahit is the eighth-bestselling physical single of all time.

There were 45 singers and many soloists, including:

  • Lionel Richie
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Paul Simon
  • Kenny Rogers
  • James Ingram
  • Tina Turner
  • Billy Joel
  • Michael Jackson
  • Diana Ross
  • Dionne Warwick
  • Willie Nelson
  • Al Jarreau
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • Kenny Loggins
  • Steve Perry
  • Daryl Hall
  • Huey Lewis
  • Cyndi Lauper
  • Kim Carnes
  • Bob Dylan
  • Ray Charles

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Released: April 12, 1996

Songwriter: Randy Newman

Genre: Country; ‎pop‎

Released in April 1996, “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” became an instant hit and one of songwriter Randy Newman’s biggest hits – thanks to its placement in Toy Story. The song also earned Newman an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song, while his Toy Story soundtrack received a nomination for Best Original Score.

Randy Newman delivered three songs for the film, as well as the instrumental score. “Strange Things” was a merry, comic song, “I Will Go Sailing No More” was a bittersweet ballad, and  “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” is a warm-hearted song that offers reassurance in the face of mounting difficulties.

“The song is about the friendship of Woody and the boy, Andy,” Randy Newman told Rolling Stone in 2017. “I asked for adjectives, they gave me ‘friendly,’ ‘comforting.’ I took them seriously. Cartoon figures have adult emotions, just like a character in Dunkirk.” The song also became a major musical reprise for the sequels Toy Story 2Toy Story 3, and Toy Story 4.

What song best defines your worldview as a teacher?


  1. Toy Story is my FAVE, but I have a very vivid memory of my 8th grade SS teacher letting the class listen in live to our local radio station debuting “We Are the World.” Such a special memory forever etched in my mind! 📻🌎❤️

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