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Sidwell Friends School's Student Newspaper Since 1974


Sidwell Friends School's Student Newspaper Since 1974


Sidwell Friends School's Student Newspaper Since 1974


Upper School English Teacher Ashish Patwardhan Recounts His Experience at Sidwell

Upper School English teacher Ashish Patwardhan has been working at Sidwell for over 20 years, currently the longest-tenured full-time teacher in the English Department. Patwardhan teaches English to all grades and will run two senior electives next year: the popular Fantasy Literature course and the long-running Shakespeare course.

After graduating from St. John’s College Santa Fe in 1998, Patwardhan traveled the world before moving to Washington in August of 1999. As a 24-year-old recent college graduate with no work experience, Patwardhan explained that Sidwell was the only high school at which he managed to secure an in-person interview. He initially planned to go to graduate school at the University of Chicago, but stated that he was “sick of writing essays.” 

Be curious to [the students], talk to them, listen to them … I think curiosity, imagination and work ethic are three big things you can bring.

— Ashish Patwardhan

Patwardhan is extremely grateful that Sidwell hired him and “[doesn’t] know if that would still happen today,” as his hiring was an anomaly even back in 1999. He stated that “some of [the other teachers] had been here for 35 years… so it was very weird being the youngest person here,” especially given he did not have any formal teaching experience prior to working at Sidwell. At the same time, it was “cool” being the youngest because “people would ask [him] for help with computers,” which at the time had only just begun to be used more commonly.

According to Patwardhan, “by far the reason to be here” at Sidwell rather than any other school is because “I get to teach what I love, for the most part, and I get to work with students that are really fun to work with… [My colleagues] are very thoughtful, conscientious… and fun too.”

After working at Sidwell for so many years, Patwardhan has gathered a wide variety of Sidwell stories. His fondest memory is of the infamous “Hiroshima Day,” a student-conceived, administratively approved “special day” meant to examine the causes and effects of the historical event from a multidisciplinary perspective. 

“Given its dramatic impact on our community, it became a day that would live in infamy,” Patwardhan explained. The story is familiar to many of his previous students, as he retells the story at least once a year. 

According to junior Ashika Agrawal, “we spent a 45 minute class just talking about Hiroshima Day once… best class ever.” Agrawal then added, “he also talked about eating a large strawberry for 20 minutes of class once.” 

In addition, Patwardhan has gotten to listen to many interesting speakers, including primatologist Jane Goodall, philosopher Christopher Hitchens and playwright Margaret Edson. 

Patwardhan commented that “since I started… the students have remained [the same], and the pleasure of teaching and working with students has been the same,” but over the years Sidwell “has become more corporate and less Quaker.”

Patwardhan reflected on his current position as one of the older members of the English Department, a complete contrast to his tech-savvy persona from when he first came to Sidwell. 

“As we started to get more computers on our desks, somebody would ask me like, ‘how do I get rid of this?’ and I’d be like, ‘Oh! Let me show you.’ Now I’m that person… I’ll be like, ‘how do I get rid of this?’ and Dr. Harvat will come over,” Patwardhan explained. “I’m like ‘dang it, that used to be me!’” 

On the whole, Patwardhan doesn’t think he would do anything differently if he had the chance to restart his teaching career at Sidwell. “I don’t regret moving here, I like working here. It’s great,” he said. 

Patwardhan’s advice to new teachers at Sidwell is to get to know your students. “Be curious [about] them, talk to them, listen to them… I think curiosity, imagination and work ethic are three big things you can bring.” He also pushed the importance of working with colleagues, saying that you can “really use your colleagues as a resource and you can get advice from them, but also reactions from them, or opinions from them about something you’re trying.” 

Patwardhan emphasized the importance of taking risks and “just try[ing] lots of things and see[ing] how they work… and then ask[ing] the students too.” He credits this advice to Upper School English Teacher Susan Banker, who he describes as being “[his] best friend here for decades.”

Looking back on his decision to opt out of graduate school and come to Sidwell instead, Patwardhan said, “Oh, I’m so glad I didn’t do that even to this day. It feels good when you make a decision, a momentous one, and then you know it was the right thing to do even later. I was like, I should celebrate [this] every year.”

“Those are the anniversaries we should celebrate, momentous decisions that you were right to make,” Patwardhan concluded. “Those you should have a cake for, like every year.”

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