Samir Paul: From Magnet Student to Magnet Teacher

Written by Ali Anwar '17, Elia Martin '17, and Shyaer Parvez '17
Edited by Haena-Young Lee '16 and Harini Salgado '15, courtesy of Silver Quest

Glorious Leader
On a bulletin board in Samir Paul’s room hangs a poster. It doesn’t show a cute animal nor a motivational quote like “Nobody remembers who finished second.” Instead, an image of Mr. Paul bearing the title “Glorious Leader” is taped onto the face of a Batman toy surrounded by Nintendo figurines. A student submitted this image when Mr. Paul asked his classes to upload pictures of what they did over holiday breaks. Whether it is requesting interesting assignments, talking to students about their weekends, or requiring student-made videos of various sorting algorithms (e.g. Bubble Sort, Insertion Sort), Mr. Paul likes to make students feel comfortable, engaged, and entertained in his computer science classes.

Paul grew up in Montgomery County and was a member of the Montgomery Blair Magnet Class of ‘06. While in high school, he served as the Editor-in-Chief of Silver Chips, was a member of the cross country team, and also was a vocalist in InToneNation, among many other activities. After graduation he attended Harvard University, where he majored in computer science.

“It was a lot of fun,” Paul says of college. “And I studied. It was a good experience.”

After graduating from Harvard, Paul started teaching math classes at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, DC (checdc.org). During just his second year of teaching, he created the only AP Computer Science class in DC Public Schools. That experience sparked his interest in instructing the subject. 

“Teaching computer science,” Paul says, “made me realize, ‘Oh, I really, really like that. That’s fun!’” 

Unfortunately, despite his newfound passion, his position did not last. The school could not offer Paul a full-time computer science teacher position. When an opportunity arose for him to work on the Obama 2012 campaign, he took it. With the campaign, he worked as a field organizer, organizing and mobilizing local volunteer groups in politically important districts in Wisconsin.

After Election Day, Paul took a job at IBM, working with the U.S. Postal Service. His main project there was to mathematically define and calculate standards for how long packages should take to be shipped from one place to another. Like a true academic, he greatly enjoyed the challenges the job posed, as well as the overall experience there. 

“I got to work on really interesting problems, and I worked with really smart people,” he says.
Paul once again moved on when he found a chance to return to teaching. He first learned of the job opportunity at Blair last year, when his former teacher and longtime friend David Stein approached him about filling in the spot of retiring Magnet computer science teacher MaryAnn Dvorsky. According to Paul, the choice to leave IBM for Blair was not a difficult one.

“I think this is one of the best teaching jobs in the country,” he says candidly. “[It was] too tempting to turn down.” 

At present, Paul teaches only two classes – Algorithms and Data Structures A/B and Programming I A/B – but he plans on branching out in the future. Asked what his ideal job would be were he not teaching, Paul had no definitive answer.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a [single dream job]. What I have,” he explains, “is a sort of overarching vision for what I want my life to be. I’d like it to be one lived in the service of others.” 

Regarding activities outside of school, Paul laments that this year, he hasn't had very much free time. But he adds that since college, he has enjoyed playing squash (“It’s a beautiful game!”). In addition, he serves on various boards, including the Board of the Harvard Club of Washington, D.C. and the Magnet Foundation.

Though nearly a decade has passed since his own graduation in 2006, Paul insists that at its roots the Magnet hasn't changed much. He acknowledges that there are superficial differences – such as the integration of smartphones and other new technology into daily Magnet life – but asserts that ultimately “the core realities of the Magnet [have stayed the same].” He believes that the Magnet’s fundamental purpose, as much today as when he was a student, is to combine/bring together “really gifted, inquisitive students who love to solve problems…[with] teachers interested in coaxing the best possible results out of [them].”  He believes that this focus is “really what’s at the heart of the success of the Magnet.”

As a former Magnet student, Paul exhibits a unique empathy for the pressure to succeed that his students face regularly. 

“I remember the feeling,” he says, “of being in high school, and…the utter weight that many students feel.”

In retrospect, he believes that he was often overly concerned about his grades. He urges his students to put GPAs second and prioritize learning and understanding what they are taught.

“I know every student reading this will ignore it,” he says half-jokingly, “but take this opportunity to actually get smarter. Take this opportunity to truly learn things. Once you’re in the world and you have responsibilities, [finding time to just learn] is really hard.”

The Magnet's 30th Anniversary Reunion will be on Sunday, August 23rd @ noon in Gaithersburg, MD!  RSVP Now!