Paul Abeln joined Fay in 2012 as English Department Chair, and in that role, he continues to develop the curriculum, oversee faculty evaluations, and mentor teachers in Fay’s English, Language Arts, and ELP programs.
Paul has a Ph.D. in American and Comparative Literature and has been teaching for almost twenty years in independent schools. Since coming to Fay, Paul has taught English to grades six through nine, but in recent years, he has focused on teaching English in the ninth grade program.
Outside of Fay, Paul enjoys writing fiction and poetry and is an avid outdoorsman, spending his summers fishing, hiking, and camping around New England with his family. Paul also loves to travel and has traveled to the Dominican Republic and China with Fay’s service and academic programs. This past winter, he enjoyed traveling to Beijing and Shanghai with Fay’s Admissions team. Paul’s son Lucas is a rising sophomore rower at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, and Paul enjoys traveling to regattas and rowing competitions to watch his son compete. We caught up with Paul recently to talk about how the English Department at Fay has changed over the years and what he continues to find challenging and rewarding about teaching at Fay.
How is the ninth grade English curriculum at Fay unique?
In most high schools, ninth graders are just starting out and finding their feet, but at Fay, our ninth graders are the leaders. They have a confidence and a focus that comes with being at the top of their game. It’s important to me to inculcate in ninth graders the sense that they’re beginning something new as students rather than finishing a curriculum. I tell them all the time that I’m going to teach this course as a high school-level course and I’m going to get them ready for the type of work they’ll need to do in secondary school.
How has the English curriculum changed since you started at Fay?
One of the big movements on my part was to increase the amount of poetry we teach and to diversify the novels that we teach. By that, I don’t just mean literature that reflects racial diversity, but also literature that touches on a range of international cultures, language traditions, and socioeconomic experiences. We have also worked hard to maintain the strength of our analytical writing program while acknowledging the movement toward personal writing and writing stamina as a value for students. We have shifted our curriculum, where necessary, to help our students work on those different writing modes.
What makes Fay a rewarding place to teach?
I think Fay is a really special place. First, the international makeup of the students makes the community unique. Having students from Thailand, Russia, Mexico, China, and Southborough in the same classroom enriches the experience for them and for me. Previously, I worked mostly in day schools, and the students tended to view everything through a similar lens. Here, there are a hundred lenses, and this breadth of perspectives teaches me something new every day. I have to adapt, and
that’s invigorating for me as an educator.
We also have so many great teachers in the English Department, and it’s inspiring to watch my colleagues grow into their areas of expertise and realize that they are at the top of their profession. We have our master grammarians, teachers with an artistic or theatrical bent, and published authors. Everyone has lived the literary experience in one way or another, and we support each other in those endeavors.
What is your favorite tradition or event at Fay?
I love the Scull Essay Competition
. Each Upper School student writes a personal essay, and one of the things that I find richest about it is that we have so many different stories being told from around the world. It really demonstrates how well we’ve done across the curriculum, not just in English, at teaching our kids how to write. Having students find and feel the value of their own voices as writers is crucial, and the Scull Essay is all about cultivating personal voice in a written form. It brings together all the things we do well: crafting great sentences through grammar, the use of structure for a purpose, valuing one’s voice, and valuing one’s own story.
Do you have a favorite book to teach?
It sounds funny because it’s so traditional, but I really enjoy teaching The Odyssey
. It’s great because I’m teaching translation at the same time, which is one of my favorite things to talk about. This year, we are teaching the first version translated into English by a woman. I also enjoy teaching poetry. We read selections from A Book of Luminous Things,
an anthology of international poetry. I studied comparative literature in graduate school, and
having students with such a natural and intuitive sense of intersecting cultures— students who know from experience how different voices can come together in a harmonious, meaningful way—makes my experience at Fay special.
Curious about Fay's ninth grade program? You can read more here
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