Teacher Spotlight: Khalil Abdul-Malik, Upper School English
Khalil Abdul-Malik doesn’t just want to teach his students one subject; he aims to help them think critically and be the best possible version of themselves. An Upper School English teacher who has also taught history and geography, Mr. Abdul-Malik weaves those subjects together to investigate and understand the human condition in his classes.
What do you love about teaching English?
I think so much of what we learn from one another and learn about our history is actually telling stories. I just love examining these amazing stories, whether it’s from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” or an ancient work like “Beowulf.”
Right now, we’re about to start reading Octavia Butler’s “Kindred,” which deals with time travel from 1976 Los Angeles to antebellum Eastern Shore Maryland. But these stories are really just wonderful ways to understand the human condition.
What’s your favorite thing about teaching this age group?
I taught middle school for a long time, and I’ve taught upper school. For middle schoolers, I think they’re trying to figure out who they are. By eighth grade, they kind of stabilize in terms of like, “This is who I am, this is what I want.”
Once the students get to high school, there’s a little bit more urgency, especially when they become sophomores. Things are becoming very real for them. I want to help them get to the place where they want to be and develop skills that they need to be lifelong learners and to be good, strong, knowledgeable citizens in our society.
So just seeing the process of learning, the process of maturity, seeing students’ eyes open to the understanding of what it means to be a human, what it means to be a citizen, what it means to be a friend, and what it means to be a learner. I love the intensity and fun of going through that process with our upper school students, especially in English class.
I feel really blessed that I get to start my day with these young folks and hang out in the faculty lounge with some other great adults.
What do you think sets Flint Hill apart from other schools?
I think the culture here is amazingly strong. It’s strong without having an underlying or enveloping factor of religion (I attended a church-affiliated school). I love the feeling of inclusivity in the school. When you walk in, we see the flags of all the different countries that students are from. There’s a phrase on American currency, E Pluribus Unum. That really sums up this school: Out of many, we have one.
I think that diversity, equity and inclusion are really appreciated here. That has a lot to do with the history of Flint Hill, because it’s a relatively young school. We’re still growing and still trying to figure out who we are. The fact that they’re asking all of us, teachers, students and staff members, to act as leaders, to push us forward on this mission of becoming the best Flint Hill that we can possibly be — that’s what has always attracted me to this school. And it’s made me really happy to jump out of bed and come to work each day because of that spirit of moving forward and the spirit of inclusivity.
What’s going on in your class right now?
We’re just starting to read “Kindred” and we’ll probably have some presentations on the topics from that book, which deals a lot with American history. And having a deeper understanding of the impact of slavery on our modern society. Trying to deal with the wounds of the past, and how do we move forward? How do we keep moving forward even when we do recognize things that have been hurtful in the past?
Then we’re going to move on to “The Great Gatsby” covering the Roaring 1920s, but also the Harlem Renaissance. You see a little glimpse of that in the book. Their final piece will be a graphic novel called “I Was Their American Dream,” which is about a young woman whose mom immigrated from the Philippines but whose dad lives in Egypt, and she’s trying to find her place within this extremely diverse high school in California. Kids tease her, but she eventually moves to Washington, DC, and kind of finds herself.
I just want them to think about the human condition. What does it mean to be a good friend? What’s it mean to be a good son or daughter? What are your responsibilities to society? How do we deal with our personal histories and find our way forward to find happiness? Those are the main themes we’re going to be working with.