Yesterday was the last of the meetings. We do meetings very well at this school! Yesterday was the meeting for senior staff and each of us had to speak about where we were in terms of preparing for the beginning of school two months from now. Eight weeks from today I will be in my first meeting of the year, again with senior staff. One of the exciting features of yesterday’s meeting (besides my friend Mona’s homemade treats she brought for us) was the presentation about the projections of where we are going in the next five years…of course, I couldn’t help but think back to five years ago right now as I closed up shop in Tarrytown, heading for a few weeks in Cincinnati before the big move here—that would be 255 weeks ago…
As an ode to the 2011-12 school year, I thought I would try and sum up this last year with an A-Z look at the students who enriched my year. Here goes…
A A is for Ahmed, the latest in the Khalayleh dynasty. I met this 9th grader (now rising sophomore) as a 5th grader, interested in culinary and artistic pursuits, and ready to come to KA years before his application hit the desk. Unfortunately, I didn’t teach 9th grade this year, so I didn’t have Ahmed in class, but watching him learn the piano and cello, and enjoying him in the choir, was very exciting. Ahmed also rates a placement in the A-Z line-up since he offered me a contract to stay at least through his junior year so I could teach him AP Art History! As one of the terms of the contract he has promised me good ice cream once a month.
B B stands for the Bawab boys. These are the children of one of my colleagues, and these guys, senior Fayez and junior Aziz, are the epitome of friendliness. I taught Fayez last year and each day he walked into class smiling and hungry to learn. This year Aziz was in my colleague Chris’ art history class, but he would come join our class on Mondays each week in his free period. Both young men radiate the potential of our students.
C C stands for that motley crew I met for the Choir each week. Try working on a music program 45 minutes a week!!?! Oh my, well, I tried a variety of pieces over the course of the year with the dozen or so 9th-12th graders, many of the pieces which I sang in junior high and high school. I finally realized singing in parts was not going to work so I found some great pieces in unison. They just don’t have a music education to fall back on, but we delighted in our weekly sessions and we performed at the Senior Dinner with two pieces that we all enjoyed.
D D is for Divij, one of the best and brightest of the Class of 2012. Divij was placed on my hallway as a sophomore, as Dean of Students Wendy explained to be a “reward” for a couple of baddies on my hallway the year before. In our three years of knowing each other, he was always a “reward” and his integrity, rigor, and warmth amply repaid me.
E E is for Elias, one of the quiet ones in my AP Art History, but another stunner as a student. As the whole class took notes, participated in discussion, engaged with the art works and cast an exciting spell, Elias did all of that, plus he sketched the art works as we encountered them as well. This hard-worker mastered the material well, thanked me often, and enriched the class.
F F is for Faris, another of the young men in AP Art History (only three girls in this section, a sea of junior testosterone!) whose smile in class lit up the day. I didn’t pronounce his last name correctly until I learned a cool Arabic colloquial word for “Killer!” that rhymed with his family name. Faris left class every day with the words, “Thank you so much, sir!”
G G is for Gefei, a student I did not teach but loved to watch from the sidelines. Gefei is one of the handful of Chinese students who joined us this year. She plays the viola and in each concert she offered examples of her musicianship and care to her work. I do hope to have her in class someday.
H H is for Hamza—what a great kid! You already know about him since he is the student whose art exhibit, “I Am Sexy And I Know It,” made me laugh so. This guy is the embodiment of that tired cliché, The Renaissance Man, but it is true. He is a scientist, an athlete, a champion art historian—and unfailingly polite and reliable. Recently Julianne’s mother met him and asked me is he was the legendary Hamzeh of my blog posts. I said, “Not the same one, but that same name has produced a new legend.”
I I really don’t know how to sum up the joy I experienced teaching my 20th Century History class. One day last December we played the “Connections Game” where I put on the board about 30 random names or facts of what we had been studying for a month; each student must come up to the board, draw lines among at least three of them and explain the connections. They were remarkable! At the end I said, “This is why we don’t have tests in this class. You have mastered the material and can articulate your reflections brilliantly.”
J J is for my superstar Jude. Jude spent the last six months extolling how much she loved art history. She loves the story of the day it all changed for her. Last fall she was not answering something very effectively—I grabbed her shoulders (gently!) and shook her saying, “Jude—you have to think!” It jarred her so much, and she skipped class the next day, but every minute after that she worked to think and rise above high school-level work. She made it to the top of the mountain faster than almost everybody else.
K K is for Kareem, a student I may never teach. For three years he has come to me excited about when he might take a class from me. Each year, however, he comes back and says, “My advisor says I’m not ready for it.” He glumly walks away. He is a rising senior now and he did the walk-away again recently. But how nice that someone could be that sad to miss out on the work!
L L is for Lubna, the senior who is acknowledged to be the best in her class at the “Connections Game.” She doesn’t just do the three connections—no, she does 4 or 5 connections, where she weaves together things like J.P. Morgan, Gesamtkunstwerk, the kaleidoscope, “Oh, What a Lovely War!” and W.E,B. DuBois. This girl loves history! And I loved teaching her history!
M M is for Moutasem, my one advisee left to me. Moutasem and I were linked together in so many ways this year: advisee, student, member of Model Congress, in my dorm—we were hardly out of each other’s sight. He has the intelligence and kindness of a poet, the charm and the dash of a bad boy, and one more year (lucky me) as my advisee.
N N is for Noor-Eddin, my other senior in AP Art History. If you were looking through a catalogue for role models, you would find his picture. I finally had the chance to teach him this year; in September he asked if he could sit in on 20th Century History. He said he couldn’t do the work, didn’t want a grade, just wanted to audit the class and soak in the history. He is a model of restraint and decency and brilliance. He embodies our school’s mission.
O O is for Omar one of my advisees and the Valedictorian for the Class of 2012. Omar and I talk about food and history and poetry and the future and plans and suffering…whatever might cross our minds creates fruitful discussions. Omar is the kind of valedictorian who earned that title through his love of learning and perseverance. Omar is the kind of student we will be talking about in Teacher Heaven.
P The P sound doesn’t exist in Arabic so there aren’t really P words—they make a B sound instead. But never fear—I have a great P name to celebrate: Julianne Puente. In my list of A-Z greats, Julianne, the Dean of Student Life, certainly deserves every accolade. Julianne is great in her job, a tireless job to say the least. But she looks at every crisis as an opportunity for learning, for both students and faculty, she lives and breathes the mission of the school, and she has made KA a much better school. This whole A-Z list has benefited from her vigor and work ethic.
Q Q is for Qais, a young man in my Art History class who learned one of the most important lessons in life—observe deadlines. Qais had every excuse in the fall about his missing work, and after a meeting of the minds last November, he never, never, ever turned something in late. Qais stuck at the course, held his own, and became a model of one of those key lessons in life—“become dependable.”
R R is for Ramie, one of my senior advisees that I have known since 9th grade. Ramie was my right hand for three Model Congress trips. In his college recommendation I casually mentioned that if I were President, I would choose Ramie as my Chief of Staff.
S S is for Dima Saad, the anointed Queen of Art History (anointed by seniors in the Class of 2010 when Dima was but just a sophomore!). Dima won the History Department award this year—it really couldn’t have been anyone else—because she makes every class she is in better. Her writing, her discussion, her insights, her praise of peers, her work ethic, her enthusiasm. The reigning Queen!
T T is for Tawfiq, one of my most frustrating students. Usually the “frustrating” students don’t make the A-Z list, but Tawfiq does. He is bright, inquisitive, participatory, and also chronically tardy or absent. ARGH! The class loses when Tawfiq isn’t there. Tawfiq loses when Tawfiq isn’t there.
U U is for the Underground Cheating Ring that got exposed this year. Students sick of other students benefiting from an organized paper-writing-mill complained and the Office of Student Life uncovered this ring. It may be like the mafia but we are more aware now than ever.
V V is for the word “vital.” I tried to sum up the importance of a senior, Noor M, who brightened two of my classes in the last two years. I came up with the word “vital” for Noor since it means a “life force.” Noor was necessary, vital indeed, to the energy and urgency of my spectacular 20th Century History class.
W W is for Walid, another art historian whose work never ceased to amaze me. Walid maybe worked too hard. But one of the great things of Walid’s work was seeing his joy as he understood a difficult Renaissance concept, or dug underneath a Mark Rothko painting and discovered the profundities that art has awaiting the patient and the bold.
X You didn’t think I would have a student for X did you! But I do! X is for Xu, another of the coterie of Chinese students to join us this year. Xu was in the choir and greeting her each Tuesday was one of the highlights of the day. She loved to sing. She loved being at KA. She loved creating a happy atmosphere.
Y Y is for the word Yawp. Okay, I didn’t have an exciting Y-named student this year, but in the absence I thought about that great line from Walt Whitman celebrated in The Dead Poet’s Society: “I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.”
Z But I had a plethora of Z-named stellar students! Z is for Zeid and Zaza and Zain. Zeid had one of those come-from-behind victories in AP Art History class, Nadine Zaza, gifted artist, taught my art history class in my absence this spring, and Zain, well, Zain wrote the Journal Sheets in 20th Century History class to which I looked the most forward every week. The Z names have been good to me here!!
I will close with a quotation from A-Z blog four years ago:
"I am reminded of the old story about two guys doing masonry work on a building. The first one, when asked what he was doing, says, “Laying bricks.” The second replies, “Building a cathedral.” Some people see teachers as merely attendance-takers, paper-graders, naggers of homework, and setters of traps for young people, or worse, just baby-sitters. Not me. I have the best job in the world, and my first year at KA reminded me of the exhilaration in creating a classroom.
Last July, in my maiden blog voyage I wrote of the American named John Ledyard who set out for the Arab world in 1776 “on a passage to glory.”
It has been a glorious year, and as that 18th century American John L. wrote, “My heart is on fire,” I can concur."