A Farewell to David Kahn: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Jane Finley, Staff Writer

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David Kahn came to Sandy Spring Friends School in 1981. His main reason for coming here was his love for Quaker education. “I worked at Earlham College and left Quaker education for a year. I didn’t like it all and came running back here.” When they came, he and his wife worked in the dorm. He taught English and she started the service hour requirement program. During his time here, Dave has taught English, worked in the dorm for his first 3 or 4 years, taught several religion courses, coached basketball and tennis, served as the English Department Head for 20 years and “other things here and there”.

A lot has changed since David came to SSFS in 1981. “Number 1: the physical–the buildings. When I started there was no Performing Arts Center, plays were put on in Clifton, no Gym, no Middle School, no Meeting House. Meeting was in Clifton, Scott House was the Headmaster’s living place, the Library was what is now the Student Lounge, the space in front of Moore hall was the parking lot.” David humbly described how he had a large part in building the Dorm program, “When we started here it was a jungle, really…we were going to quit after the first year, it was so awful.” But they stayed, making something out of nothing, improving the program considerably from when it first started.

David’s passion for literature and discussing it with students is what makes him a phenomenal teacher, but it’s also why he loves teaching. He said that by far his favorite part of teaching is being in the classroom “talking about books – my favorite books – with students who are excited about the books that I get excited about.” He noted his favorite classes to teach: British Literature, Russian Literature, and Native American Literature, with his favorite book being The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. He has clearly impacted not only on his current students, but alumni of Sandy Spring. “I have been in contact with two ex-students, both of whom are doctors, and I think it’s so cool to look back and say I remember that person in English 10! It’s nice to talk to them and to discuss memories. It’s nice to connect.”

Students who were late to his class, however, used to not to be able to participate in discussions or even enter his classroom at all. “I used to have the freedom to lock my door in the morning. If you are late after a while, if you are habitually late, I am locking you out. I am told I can’t do this anymore. David Kahn locks you out, and people were on time. A student who was late and locked out he held up this piece of paper from a police officer that says ‘I stopped the student at this street and gave him a ticket from this officer’ (David has this note laminated and hung up on his wall) so I had to let him in, because he was more concerned about being late than getting a ticket.” This is only one of many memories David has from his time at SSFS. He said his most memorable one was during his time as tennis coach. “My tennis player, Christina Copty, won the PVAC girls tennis championship two and almost three years in a row.”

David will be missed by the SSFS community. We are losing an icon who has impacted our school and the people in it. A student who really appreciates David and his classes is Eddie Mikkelson, a senior. Eddie describes how in Middle School he didn’t like English class, but having David in English 10 made him fall in love with literature. Since English 10, Eddie has not left David’s classroom. He took AP British Literature last year and Russian and AP American Literature this year. That’s right, he has doubled up, taking two of David Kahn’s English classes! He said, “David knows the best books to teach and he has a very unique way of getting people engaged in the literature we read. He not only knows the value of the books we read on the surface, but he knows the depth of the books and he’s able to show how books we read relate to the historical events taking place during the times they were written and how they may relate to books we may have already read. He’s also just hilarious.” Eddie wasn’t always the fan of English he is now, but David changed that. “When I was in David’s class in 10th grade I remember becoming more engaged in what we were discussing. It began to invigorate my interest and love for English now. One of the most notable things I’ve learned is the love of books and literature.”

After 36 years of teaching, David is ready to enjoy retirement. When asked his future plans, he said: “Just try to stay perpendicular for as long as I can. Take a year off to do whatever we feel like doing. I hope to volunteer on the Hopi or Navajo reservations out West. Go places, see friends who have moved away. For one year, at least, just do nothing. And after that, look for something to fill time.” Might that include the return of playing pickup basketball games on the playgrounds of Baltimore with Bob and Barry? That is something only David can answer.

For more DK, check out his blog here.

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