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Teaching Armenian School Keeps Me Vibrant

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While many of you are catching a few extra winks on a Sunday morning or taking your kid to a sporting event, I find myself heavily indulged in what I enjoy best: Paving the way for the next generation, whether it’s spiritual, historical, cultural, or geographical. There’s no rest for the weary when it comes to being a self-committed Armenian School teacher.

Armenian School students Kristina Bebirian, left, and Ani Minasian participate in a hantes.

So what will it be today? The alphabet? Conversation? Church history? Current events? Genocide education? How about Armenia’s contributions to world civilization?

Wonder how many students realize that an Armenian named Moses Gulezian saved the USS Constitution from becoming scrap metal? Or having the Turks turn it into a warship by raising thousands of dollars and preserving what’s become Boston’s top tourist attraction?

Or that the father of plastic surgery (Dr. Varaztad Kazanjian) was an Armenian who was the most honored graduate of Tufts Medical School and often called the “miracle man of the West?”

Students enjoy hearing things that fascinate them. “I didn’t know that” is the best four words any instructor could hear.

It’s been a long ride over an emotional roller coaster track these past 30 years. I’m not alone inside my church school. Assisting me these days are students I taught three decades ago whose children are now enrolled.

Classes were more regimented back then. Students were more disciplined. If there’s any link to the past, it’s still the path to resistance. Even with my own kids, it was a hassle getting them to attend Armenian School, no matter how much they were told it was for their own good.

In Armenian School I was taught by a priest who later sent me to a monastery. There was no debating with my parents, both of whom were genocide survivors. No Armenian lessons meant solitary home confinement. Today they “ground” you.

Just when you think you’re at wit’s end with your students, wondering what a 71-year-old schoolteacher is doing in a place like this, along comes that burst of sunlight after a storm.

For every child that defied the system, there was another who welcomed it.

Had you been at our church anniversary this year, you would have noticed a cluster of students impeccably reciting their Armenian. Looking on with unadulterated pride were their parents and grandparents. As teachers we have a moral responsibility to challenge students.

Over the years, I’ve come to learn that one of the most important duties of an Armenian School teacher is to keep a roomful of live wires grounded. Sometimes you become a keg of dynamite and explode.

And I’ve come to learn that some of the worst-behaved schoolchildren usually have the best attendance record.

In a sense, we do not need a classroom in which to teach our children. We can do it in the convenience of our homes, whenever the time dictates. Teachers need not be certified, only willing.

One parent I know plays Armenian Church music in her car as a way to expose her children. An hour a day of conversational Armenian has also become a ritual.

As a teacher, I am often taught by my pupils.

I’ve also discovered another gift as a schoolteacher—the fountain of youth. Hanging around younger citizens keeps me rejuvenated. You get to act their age, and that’s bound to have an uplifting effect.

We’re usually an unsung breed, which is our preference. And wealthy, not monetarily but internally. The Bank of America can’t pay us enough to see one child step forward with an Armenian vocabulary, bent on perpetuating our language.

Armenian schoolteachers watch the clock, not to hurry the time along, but to hold it back. An hour a week just doesn’t seem like sufficient time to cover an entire heritage. Dividing your agenda with religious education on a harried Sunday morning might be rather tricky.

I find a better alternative to be the Saturday day schools where Armenian is prioritized. But even they have conflicts with outside activities. Come Sunday and there’s school once more. Asking a child or parent to devote an entire week to class might be stretching the cord a bit.

An Armenian School teacher must be able to empathize and sympathize. They must stand prepared to condone a vigilant act as we all have done over time. They must endure a sense of humility and humiliation when a student upstages them. A bad day in class must be better than a good day of golf or fishing.

Armenian school teachers must be resilient, courageous, and bold. In the end, it’s the fine art of imparting knowledge without always possessing it. If all else fails, go to the nearest pew and say a prayer. God always listens…

1 Comment on Teaching Armenian School Keeps Me Vibrant

  1. Tom. you have inspired many. Our children still talk of their days when you were their Armenian school teachers. Our son now teaches Armenian school at the parish we attend. Many of the contribution we make as adults find their motivation
    in our youth. A teacher, a priest , some friends. Those humble servants, such as yourself, who help guide our young generation are performing the noblest of tasks in our greater community. God Bless You and may you teach for many more years.

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