Over the last 22 years, Mx. Ahbel has forged an impressive and impactful career for himself at Deerfield. Not only has Mx. Ahbel taught every math course from Algebra I to Calculus, but he has been an Academic Dean, Math Department Chair, academic technology coordinator, faculty resident in Denunzio, and thirds basketball coach. Many times, like in 2006, he held all of these roles simultaneously.
He compared roles in his classroom to those on an athletic team: the coach, players, and cheerleaders. The teacher, acting as the coach, needs their players to be able to play the game, or in this case, commit to learning. Students, however, often need a cheerleader as well as a coach, or someone who will celebrate not only their triumphs, but also encourage them to try again after a struggle.
Anne Brown ’21 reflected on Mx. Ahbel’s class, saying, “I thought of myself as a bad math student, but as soon as I had his class I realized I was never bad at math, I just didn’t have confidence in myself. Mx. Ahbel showed me I just needed to believe in myself, by the fact he always believed in me, that I really could succeed in math.” In this case and many others, Mx. Ahbel has taken on the role of both coach and cheerleader for his students.
Abby Persons ’21 commented on Mx. Ahbel’s Precalculus and Statistics class, in which he uses a completely self designed curriculum: “Before Mx. Ahbel’s class, I was always disinterested in math. I didn’t really understand a lot of the content, and most of it was boring. Now, we learn about the importance of math in current issues I care about, and I’m doing better than I ever have in a math class. Having relevant subject matter in a math class makes all the difference.”
Mx. Ahbel has led a meaningful career within Deerfield’s classrooms, courts, and administrative departments and has held active roles outside of campus. He has spoken at teaching conferences on six different continents and given keynote speeches on four. He’s done work, taught, and researched for the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education. Mx. Ahbel’s double life has also taken his expertise into classrooms around the world and at numerous levels, in the form of curriculum and learning materials development. He has written instructional material nearly every day beginning in the 1990’s, and some highlights include three textbooks for the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project, a Common Core based curriculum funded by federal grants, and a year long curriculum that he himself authored, An Alternative to Precalculus, completely free. Mx. Ahbel aims to write curriculum that is interesting, sophisticated, intellectually challenging, and highly applicable.
Still, Mx. Ahbel has not just been a crucial asset to student’s learning careers, but to teachers as well. Mx. Ahbel has said one of the most rewarding aspects of his career has been mentoring teachers to teach students. For the past thirty years, Mx. Ahbel has consulted and run workshops at secondary schools in the American Northeast to focus upon how to prepare students for the 21st century’s most pressing challenges.
On the other side of Mx. Ahbel’s double life, the one most of us are acquainted with, he’s witnessed and precipitated positive change at Deerfield over the last twenty two years. Mx. Ahbel was present for the first Second Helpings at St. James Church, a service opportunity to serve meals to local residents, before it was an organized event. It was a tradition he continued for many years and one that he said helped him to stay grounded while surrounded by the opulence of Deerfield, something he wishes all DA community members could find.
When asked about any admirable changes he’s seen at Deerfield over more than two decades, he replied with the fact that the school is now engaging with some serious self reflection, especially in relation to its role in power and privilege. He says it’s hard work, but it seems as though Deerfield is challenging itself recently to be a place that is truly inclusive. Mx. Ahbel said emblematic of the change he’s proud of is that the students call him Mx. Ahbel and how it’s become normal. It’s his way, he says, of challenging himself to participate in the necessary change Deerfield is working towards. His favorite thing that hasn’t changed at Deerfield, however, Mx. Ahbel said, is how students will thank him everyday when departing class, even when the grades were bad and the test was hard.
Every day, he wakes up much earlier than he needs to, just in case his students need more extra-help. He also prepares a “Picture of the Day’’ for his classes, always including a mathematical component and often relating to current events. Now, if you asked Mx. Ahbel why he’s done this every class period for years, he’d probably tell you it’s in case anyone who’s running late from their last class won’t miss any instruction, but to be honest, I don’t buy that. The Picture of the Day embodies Mx. Ahbel’s achievements inside the classroom. It’s a piece of information that connects an important, real world phenomenon or event to the concepts he teaches, relayed in a manner that’s easily understood or inspiringly challenging, and encourages all his students to start class off right: in the pursuit of knowledge to better understand the world, and make it a better place all together.
Mx. Ahbel is known to get teary-eyed when talking about his love and appreciation for his students. Well, I hope he knows his students are more than teary eyed for him: sad that he’ll be gone, but so grateful they had the privilege to sit in his classroom and experience his passion for changing the world for the better—a spirit of advocacy that will remain with Deerfield for years to come.