Letter America Dear Doctor Guy, My friend recently stopped taking my calls because I’m dating her ex-boyfriend, but they broke up like over two years ago. I don’t know what to do.—Helpless Hottie ... More
At a recent SO CLASSY! conference (English teachers who refuse to give up on the classics), I was a sitting at a table with a group of college students who wanted to become teachers. After I told them they were far too attractive to join my pedagogical posse (ha!), one of them asked what made up a good class. It was a very good question, and I thought about the perception that seminar-style discussions need to be filled with outgoing teenagers who act is if they are all running for president on the alternate student council here at RRHS. I explained to this budding teacher-to-be that I strongly affirm that a good discussion-based class is like a belletristic symphony; you need a variety of great young minds to create richness and texture. True that some music (hint: dubstep. Ew!) only offer a few notes or a constant electronic buzzing, but that’s hardly what I’d call music. Give me Debussy (and a glass of wine) anyday. The reason I open with this melodious anecdote is that Astral Borouch was a resonant member of my class last year, even though she wasn’t the one to pipe in first or make a witty retort when I referenced my cat, Balzac. Astral had the quiet confidence and earnest intellectual curiosity that provided an integral Cagian base note to our American Literature class last year. She also carries these qualities outside the classroom as well, enacting a quiet sense of leadership on the cross-country and track courses and as a senior here at Red Rock High.
I was fortunate enough to have Astral last year in a small section of American Literature. This may seem like some sort of new age psychobabble (it’s not!), but what struck me at first was the way Astral actively listened. After teaching striplings for over twenty years, you develop a strong sense of who is paying attention and who isn’t. I once had a student who nodded along so eagerly that I expected him to be my own private valedictorian. Turned out he was listening to a band called Gwar under his hat. Other kids called him Skrillerz (I think his given name may have been Bartholomew, I can’t really recall), and I actually found it remarkable how much time and effort he had put into fooling me. He colored the wires on his earphones brown and ran the cords up under his turtleneck (which he wore every day) and behind his ears and hair, which he had grown long just for this complicated ruse. He wore a knit cap (toast-colored) over his ears and had me fooled this way through the first semester exam. Naturally, he failed my class once I found out, but I almost gave him a pass for diligence, ingenuity, and the great compliment he paid me by going to almost Shakespearean lengths.
Astral had that intense gaze and clear note-taking skills that I call “aerobic listening”. Further, Astral’s facial expressions about the ideas we discussed were always earnest and thoughtful. I loved watching her pensively grimace during discussion of difficult texts like Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine and Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”. Her maturity bloomed in the visual ways she approached a text. Often, students immediately react to books by giving them the proverbial thumbs up or thumbs down; Astral’s relationship to books and ideas were more about understanding them and learning. Even though she is no longer in my class, Astral and I often exchange knowledgeable glances in the hallways or during assemblies to visually “check in” about the books they are reading in senior English or ideas she has about essays. I look forward to these intuitive moments very much.
As a writer, Astral applies the same thoughtful and methodical process to her writing as she does to her classroom presence. I distinctly recall meeting with her during our unit on The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. In her unique and fascinating way, Astral used the ideas of separation in Diaz’s novel to create a spare, concise narrative that, although it only contained a few words on each page, emoted great meaning. The way she interacted with the text and then found a metaphor to apply to her own aphonic life was wonderful. I loved reading her early drafts (that contained even fewer words) and discussing sophisticated ideas about issues of craft and technique (full disclosure: mostly I discussed and Astral practiced aerobic listening). I’d much rather have a complex thinker who doesn’t speak like Astral than a student who has been taught to please adults by regurgitating what a teacher has said verbatim or what buzzwords and clichés he thinks adults want to hear. Astral will be a good student in college for real and organic reasons. Sometimes this virtue gets lost in the crazy college application madness where students run around, talking way too much about early action and early decision, terms that applied only to firefighters and gadflies when I was in high school (ha!). I hope you take a good look at her.
Finally, Astral’s quiet confidence and, dare I say, moral compass has made her a valued leader here at RRHS. She is silent captain of two athletic teams (there are speaking captains as well, positions created just for Astral’s year), the senior coordinator (also silent) of our nationally recognized service learning program, and an award winning member of our senior class. On a personal note, before she moved away to live with her mother, my daughter Grace was on the cross-country team under Astral’s watch so I was able to witness Astral’s leadership firsthand. What I realized is that I can only hope that Grace has mentors and role models like Astral in the future. She’s that special and I’m sure Grace will have enough chatty cathys in her life.
It is my great honor to write this letter in support of this most qualified candidate.
Silence is golden,
Richard Fulton Winter
1998 Arizona Junior Humanities Excellence in Teaching Award—Honorable Mention
Class Sponsor of the Alternate Student Council
Author of The Bard’s Gentle Graces (poetry chapbook)