Ross School alumnus Sam Yarabek ’04 returned to Ross in November as the twelfth grade English teacher with the World Languages and Literature department. He recently spoke with School News about his path back to Ross and what inspires his teaching style.
Describe your role at Ross.
My main role is to help my students develop their appreciation for and their understanding of the history of literature as it has been defined by the Ross Model. Now, in order to develop this appreciation, students need to develop their reading, writing, and thinking skills so that they can more fully understand the literary works we encounter, and if they can understand these works, they will hopefully come to appreciate the fact that they are active agents in a life that has a worldly inheritance. My hope is that at least one of these literary works speaks to them and helps them to feel a sense of place and connectedness, and from that place, I hope that in developing these reading, writing, and thinking skills, they have the confidence and skill set to go out into the world and participate productively, beautifully, and vitally.
What is the class currently studying?
We are studying Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick. This is an especially challenging text. It comprises a collage of genres and the language is often difficult; much of the vocabulary, for example, is specific to the culture of whaling: “starboard this” and “port side that.” But the work is outstanding and there are numerous passages and sentences that just level the playing field and leave you standing with your jaw dropped. It’s a work that explores and remixes the history of Western civilization, from the Greek gods through the Bible, and across the spectrum of world faiths and cultural narratives. It turned the 19th century on its head and presaged much of what the culture at large began to discover popularly and across the disciplines in the early 20th century. It’s a cornerstone in the history of literature. They called him, Melville, the Shakespeare of the United States. My only hope is to help my students navigate this dense, strange text and give them a sense for the novel as a whole, for if they can get that, they will better understand themselves, modernity, and contemporary culture.
What led you to a teaching career in English literature?
I’ve been studying philosophy and literature since I was a student at Ross. I love ideas and the life of the mind, and I have lived a life that has strengthened my capacity for empathy. Teaching literature is the perfect fit for a career that blends my passions and skill set.
How did you come to teach at Ross School?
Ross has been a big part of my life, first as a student and now as an educator; it was my relationship with Ross faculty, after all, that ignited my love for philosophy and literature. So when I heard that the twelfth grade position was opening up, I jumped at the opportunity. In no other place could I teach such a vibrant curriculum to such a multicultural, bright, and creative body of students. And not only that—in filling this position, I’ve had the unique opportunity to work alongside Alex Cromwell during the transition and through the year, with her serving as a mentor and advisor to me. When life offers such a fabulous opportunity, you take it, and I’m glad I did.
What’s next for you?
Well, 6th period, chapter 42: “The Whiteness of the Whale.”
And beyond? I’ll keep teaching and writing and reading. I’ll also probably further my formal education by pursing a PhD in literature or an MFA in writing.