Surprise meeting boosts MD faculty morale

Julia Bouchut, Staff Writer

Middle Division (MD) faculty and support staff met in the cafeteria on Tuesday to celebrate, socialize, and have a good time, Head of MD Javaid Khan ’92 said.

February and March tend to be difficult months for the faculty, especially since COVID has cut off the natural flow of conversations and interactions, Khan said. “We were feeling that people were working hard, feeling stressed out, I just felt like the faculty needed to spend time together enjoying themselves,” he said. 

Khan secretly planned the meeting with the MD Dean of Faculty Eva Abbamonte three weeks ago, he said. They thought of ways to recognize the faculty and show their appreciation for their hard work and dedication.

To keep it a surprise, the administration told the faculty that they would have a routine professional development meeting, Khan said. Teachers first met in the Recital Hall, after which Abbamonte redirected them to the cafeteria where the doors were covered with paper so that the teachers could not see inside until they walked in.

FLIK staff set up the cafeteria for the event with dinner tables covered with tablecloth and adorned with floral arrangements. “The tables looked really pretty with the flowers and decorations,” Spanish teacher Rachael Cooper said.

There was a buffet and a dessert table with an array of food including chocolate covered strawberries, pigs in a blanket, chicken, potstickers, and cookies. Each person also found a bag with a Starbucks gift card and notepad on their seat.

“I was definitely surprised,” computer teacher Dr. Glenda Guerrero said. “It was the first time that we’ve experienced this kind of meeting.”

The faculty was particularly touched by Khan’s introduction, where he thanked them for giving so much to the students and to each other in the past few years, Guerrero said. 

“I would have never in a million year expected that we were going to do that instead of professional development and it was the most welcome surprise,” Cooper said.

It felt nice to be appreciated after a hard couple of years, English teacher Stephanie Davidow said. “It was really important and valuable just because nobody really knows what it’s like to be a teacher, especially a teacher at Horace Mann, except for other teachers.

The first activity was the “penny social,” which was a mix between a raffle and a silent auction. The faculty and staff received raffle tickets at the door of the cafeteria that they used to bid on items and prizes. Winning tickets were drawn at random and prizes included a Tiffany harmonica, a rare comic book, tickets for a Broadway show, and dinner at a local restaurant.

The high point of the afternoon was a mentalist performance, Khan said. The mentalist went from table to table and performed a show at the end, which included telekinesis and mind reading.

Using theatrical trickery and sophisticated sleight, his performance left the faculty spellbound, Cooper said. “I had seen an illusionist or mentalist before, but I had never seen anyone this good.”

The mentalist used telekinesis for his first trick, Davidow said. He set two faculty members, history teacher Justin BakerRhett and Senior Director of Dining Services Brenda Cohen, 10 feet apart with their eyes covered. When he touched Cohen’s arm, Baker Rhett also felt his arm get touched, Davidow said. 

In the psychic part of the show, the mentalist read volunteers’ minds, including Guerrero. “I was intimidated at first,” she said. He gave Guerrero a baton and distracted her with make-believe scenarios, making her believe she was reading a book at a library. He then asked her to pick a word from a deck of cards, Guerrero said. “He asked me if this was the word I was thinking of and he was right, the word was love.”

It was important for the faculty to reconnect in a personal way once the school’s COVID measures relaxed, Khan said.

This meeting was also the first time that teachers who joined the school in the past two years met with the entire faculty, so teachers were instructed to sit with people they did not know well, Davidow said. “By hour two of this it was like we were all fast friends and making jokes,” she said. “I left feeling very positive and very understood, feeling like I had a lot of friends in this school.”

“The mental health of teachers is also something we need to be concerned about,” Guerrero said.
“It was great to see smiling faces, to see people relaxed.”

The meeting gave Cooper a chance to reconnect with people she knew but did not see often, she said. “I haven’t sat at a table and just had a conversation as a normal person, outside of  meetings.” 

Khan was pleased with the feedback he received from the teachers, he said. “Those who came told me that they were really thankful. It was a good reminder to all of us that we always need to recognize our faculty.”