The Great and Powerful Shaz

I’ve been a teacher since 2006 and have had, in that time, about 1,800 students in my classrooms. And yes, they’ve all been wonderful people and I’ve loved them all. But…well, you know…I might have had some favorites over the years.

I know that I’m not supposed to have favorites, but it’s hard not to, especially with the high quality of students that come through my door. And especially when one of those students is the super cute, super smart, super wonderful Shahrazad Sheikhali.

me-and-shaz-in-hallway

How cute and smart and wonderful is she?!

Shaz first became my student in August of 2011 when she enrolled in my Composition 2 class; and I immediately liked her. She was quiet but smart, and she always went the extra mile with her work, her discussions, and with the way she treated her classmates. She was one of my favorites that semester, and it could have ended there.

Shaz, far right -- her first appearance in one of my class photos!

English 152, Fall 2011: Shaz is far right — her first appearance in one of my class photos!

But then — but then! — I learned that she was loved to write! Favorite status imminent! Shaz enrolled in my creative writing class for the next semester…

One damn fine creative writing class!

One damn fine creative writing class!

…and then the next semester she joined Writer’s Block, our campus creative writing club. She quickly became a leader for the group, helping to organize author readings and our Bi-Annual Bad Poetry Contest.

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Writer’s Block hosts its first reading with author Sasha Dawn

Shaz emcees a Bad Poetry contest

Shaz emcees a Bad Poetry contest

Because of her work in our creative writing class and with the student club, I enlisted her to be one of my student editors for the 2013 issue of Voices, MCC’s literary arts magazine. She did a wonderful job on the issue, and even had one of her own poems published.

Writer's Block celebrates the end of the year and the Voices 2013 issue

Writer’s Block celebrates the end of the year and the Voices 2013 issue

Although Shaz didn’t need to take any more of my classes, we didn’t stop working together. She came to me with an idea for a project we could work on together as part of MCC’s then brand-new Undergraduate Research Scholar Program. She wanted to do some research on the impact of the teacher-student relationship on student success. We collaborated to design objectives and a plan for the semester, and then she set to work. Shaz did a literature review, observed classrooms all over campus, surveyed and interviewed students and professors, and wrote up her report at the end of her project (FYI: a supportive and structured student-teacher relationship has a positive impact on student performance). I was proud to be her mentor throughout the process, and I was even prouder when she told me that she’d be graduating MCC, transferring to Northern Illinois University, and studying to be a teacher. An English teacher! OMG, dream come true. Favorite status achieved!

She invited me to go to with her to NIU’s new student orientation the summer before she enrolled. I hadn’t been to a new student orientation like that since I was starting as an undergraduate myself, and I loved going with Shaz for a tour of the residence halls, the classrooms, the dining hall…everything! We also nerded out in the book store and I came out of it with a number of NIU pens. (I know, surprise, surprise, I bought pens.)

NIU's new student orientation!

NIU’s new student orientation!

I took a lot fewer pictures of Shaz during her time at NIU, primarily because it would have been weird for me to lurk around her classrooms and newspaper meetings and dining hall, snapping photos. (Although, to be honest, I was tempted.) But we kept in touch, got together for coffees and lunches in DeKalb and in Crystal Lake, and she caught me up on all of her cool studenty stuff.

Last year she did an observation at a middle school near her campus, and this semester she was a student teacher in the same school and with the same teacher. It was the last piece of her bachelor’s degree, and I got to see her in action. For my Adolescence in the Schools class at UIC this semester, I needed to observe adolescents in their natural habitat and the write up an ethnography; so I asked Shaz if I could observe her 7th grade class for a couple of hours one afternoon. She and her lead teacher were gracious enough to allow me to observe, and it was so much fun, not only because 7th graders are hilarious and weird and awesome, but because Shaz was great and I loved seeing her teach.

Shaz waits for her students to come back from lunch

Shaz waits for her students to come back from lunch

Shaz the teacher!

Shaz the teacher!

And then she was finished with her NIU coursework, was all set for her endorsements and her degree, and the only thing left for her to do was to graduate. To graduate, omg!

She graduated this past Sunday, and she invited me to the ceremony to sit with her family, which was an honor in itself. Her parents, sisters, and brother had gotten to NIU’s convention center as soon as the doors opened to get some good seats, and they were successful: we were front row, only yards away from where Shaz was seated.

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And the ceremony was lovely. NIU’s steel band played “Pomp and Circumstance,” (yes, they have an award-winning steel band and they played all the music and it was surreal because there was a snowstorm outside but tropical music all morning long). The president, during his keynote address, asked the families of the graduates to stand up and be recognized for their support, so the Sheikhalis took a much-deserved bow:

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Oh, just the cutest family ever.

And we watched Shaz walk up to receive her diploma, and we were all smiling so hard our faces almost fell off of our heads.

After the ceremony, we gathered with the other few hundred graduates and their accompanying thousands of family members in the convention center’s lobby to take some photos.

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Shaz, her sisters, and her mother

sheikhali-family

Shaz, her sisters, and her cousin

Me and my favorite Shaz!

Me and my favorite Shaz!

All of it made me so happy and proud and bursting with smiles and hugs. Shaz has already gotten a job at a high school in the district where she did her student teaching, and she’ll start next fall. I’m so proud of how hard she’s worked and I’m honored to have been a part of her academic career.

I’m sure Shaz will be a part of my life for many years to come, and I know that although I’ll still have favorite students, I won’t have another one like her. Good luck, Shaz! You’re going to go so far!

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