Praising the English department

Praising the English department

My English class experience: 301 classes. 400 hours. 35 books. 42 essays. However, it stretches far beyond this, for English isn’t a subject comprised of numbers, equations, facts or formulas. Rather, it is an 80-minute period of the day that stretches the mind and forces one to think in a different way.

My underclassmen English years were spent in the hands of English Teachers Eve Ellis and Miles Dunmore, where I studied classic texts from Homer’s Odyssey to J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, and much in between. For two years, my English skills developed: I learned how to deconstruct a piece of literature and how to annotate a book thoroughly. I was drilled in grammar and had my writing constructively taken apart and analyzed. I became an active participant at the Harkness table, always willing to share my thoughts and never hesitating to engage with the views of my classmates.

At the end of sophomore year I was prepared to jump into my first English elective: Shakespeare. We tackled King Lear, Much Ado about Nothing and Julius Caesar. What a treat to be able to see these works brought to life in West End theaters! I spent second semester in Middle Eastern Literature with English Teacher Peggy Elhadj. Being partly of Middle Eastern heritage myself, I felt a special connection with the subject matter, which made the class that much more enjoyable.

First semester senior year I landed my first class with English Teacher Stephen Potchatek, another high school student favorite. I’ll be honest, I was hesitant to take Dramatic Literature and Performance, as I feared that word ‘performance’ might not pertain to me. I needn’t have worried. After reading our first play: Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, I never looked back. We travelled far and wide to watch performances, tapping the theater scene well outside the West End.

I will finish high school in a few months having enjoyed another Potchatek offering, Literature of Fact. Our first book was Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, a decadent non-fiction murder mystery that I just couldn’t put down, and when I did put the book down, I still couldn’t get the story out of my head. Potchatek diverts his students away from a focus on the grade they earn in his class, and more so on the texts that we read and participation in discussions. His classes are the perfect antidote for even a strong case of ‘Senioritis’.

It would take a hard heart indeed not to fall in love with literature as revealed and presented by ASL’s wonderful faculty. They taught me the tools and the concepts to analyze what I read, but more importantly they showed me how literature can be brought to life: The smell of a new book, the emotions, the suspense, the beauty.

Whether sitting at home with a cup of tea, relaxed and completely enthralled in a book, or furtively scrambling to read the last few pages of an assignment under the heavy wood of the Harkness table, I will always be conscious of reading for the sake of enjoyment and engaging with the text for the advancement of my learning.

The English department places emphasis on finding your niche and crafting your individual path through reading and writing. This unorthodox approach to learning in such a competitive and grade-driven environment allows students to come to love reading and writing because they approach it from a different perspective. With that, my eyes will remain forever open to the bounty of literature, which I will enjoy for the rest of my life.

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