Arthur Samuels: Bringing History to Life for More Than 25 Years

Arthur Samuels has taught IB history and incited a love of learning in Upper School students at Dwight since 1992.

Arthur Samuels has taught IB history and incited a love of learning in Upper School students at Dwight since 1992. During his long tenure, Mr. Samuels held a number of important roles in addition to teaching — he served significant terms as the Head of History Department, Dean of Anglo House, and Head of Upper School, before joining the College Counseling team in 2007.

Mr. Samuels is cited often and fondly by alumni as a particularly memorable teacher both for his ability and his unique style of teaching. We sat down with him to learn more about his dual role at Dwight, his spark for fostering excitement in the classroom, and to congratulate him on a well-deserved honor! We're proud to report that Mr. Samuels just received an Education Update 2018 Outstanding Educator of the Year Award at The Harvard Club.

Please describe your journey to becoming a teacher.

I was very lucky that by the time I was 20, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had some amazing history and English teachers along the way — in middle school, high school, and a few amazing professors at Vassar College who inspired me.

I wanted to pass the torch and share the knowledge and skills that I had learned. I wanted to make a contribution to young people in the same way that a contribution was made to me.

What is your educational philosophy?

My philosophy is simple: It is the teacher's responsibility to do everything he or she can to inspire and excite students. I also believe strongly in discovering and encouraging the spark of genius in every child, which is more than just a motto at Dwight; we all live it every day.

What do you like most about teaching at an IB school and at Dwight, in particular?

I enjoy teaching the IB Diploma Program history curriculum, which is excellent! It focuses on modern world history and gives young people a perspective on the world that they're entering as young global citizens.

As for Dwight, I like teaching at a small school with a lot of families. I'm getting to the point where I'm teaching second generations of families in my classroom, and my hope is to one day get to the third generation!

Tell us about your personal spark of genius.

My spark is my ability to get young people excited about learning history. That excitement goes beyond getting good grades — it's about fostering a true love of learning, with no other agenda. It's about a love of learning for learning's sake.

I'm a very animated teacher. I have a teaching style that mandates that you pay attention — I use the entire classroom as my prop for teaching and I'm very loud! I also insist that during class, students take notes the old-fashioned way. I don't want to compete with Facebook, Snapchat, etc., so students take handwritten notes in my class and it works!

As a college counselor, what do you enjoy most about guiding students through their journeys beyond Dwight?

Helping juniors and seniors find their ideal match school is an exciting process. The transition from high school to college is really the transition from childhood to adulthood. It's the opening of doors to that new experience and to that next chapter in life. Giving students and parents a program and an agenda to follow to make sense of this whole process, and breaking it down into steps so they're not quite so overwhelmed, is very gratifying. What I enjoy most is guiding students to find the school that could be home — a home that they will grow into and, eventually, out of.

How does teaching inform your approach to college counseling?

My dual role allows me to take a truly personalized approach to college counseling. I'm very fortunate that I've already taught most of the kids who I counsel. As their teacher, I get to know each student's' strengths, weaknesses, passions, and interests. And since our College Counseling Department has a fantastically low ratio of students to counselors, I'm able to provide highly personalized guidance to my students. I make myself readily available, which means working from home and over the summer, but it's my pleasure. I love being able to provide extra support to families as they navigate the process.

As a history teacher, are there any particular moments in history or time that inspire you?

Ten years ago, I went to Charlestown, WV, where I interviewed the last living American veteran of the first World War, Frank Woodruff Buckles. He was 110 years old when he died, and well over 100 when I spoke with him. Meeting him was an absolute pleasure. Mr. Buckles embodied living history, not history that only exists in books and movies. Our conversation was a great reminder that living history fades away quickly, and we have to seize it while we can!

Of course, I shared his stories with my students. I discussed how independent he was and how at the age of 16, he forged his birth certificate to make it look like he was two years older, in order to join the Army. Mr. Buckles felt compelled to join the war effort out of patriotism. He ended up in France in 1918, driving ambulances. I like to point out to my students that he was the same age during WWI, in uniform, that they are now as juniors and seniors at Dwight. And we discuss how entirely different the world is today.

What is a little-known fact about you?

In 1999, I had a Fulbright Scholarship in Islamic culture, specifically, Islamic mysticism. I went to Senegal and Morocco to study for over two months. I love to travel — I've been to over 40 countries!  

You received a PD grant from The Dwight School Foundation. How did you bring that learning back to the classroom?

I earned two master's degrees in the 1990s while working at Dwight — one in history from Fordham University and a Master in Education Administration from Columbia University — thanks to the generous support of the Foundation.

Additionally, I look forward to attending my fourth Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History seminar this summer, entitled "Presidents at War," spanning McKinley to Trump. I can't wait to bring the extremely relevant information and analysis that I'll learn there into my IB history classes next year!

No doubt, students will find Mr. Samuels drawing conclusions with the same measure of enthusiasm that he brings to lessons delivered infamously atop a desk!

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