Pursuing a doctorate, Ms. Nagel leaves but hopes to return

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Photo from Shalhevet Facebook

NEXT: Ms. Nagel is beginning a Ph.D. program in English at UC Irvine this fall.

By Gabriella Gomperts, Senior Writer

English teacher Ms. Naamit Nagel, known for probing analysis of Jewish literature and for classes as popular as they were challenging, has left Shalhevet to pursue a Ph.D. in English Literature at UC Irvine. 

Ms. Nagel’s senior SAS Jewish Literature class received funding from Jewish Education Innovation Challenge in recognition of her writing on Jewish identity.

UC Irvine’s Ph.D. program in English is rated No. 1 in the country for literary and critical theory, according to U.S. News and World Report. 

But she has not cut her ties to Shalhevet and said she expects to return in two years.  She remains Associate Director of the Shalhevet Institute and said there’s a possibility of her teaching a minimester for seniors later this year. She also ran a section of last month’s college essay-writing boot camp for seniors.

She describes her break from Shalhevet as a sabbatical.

“It’s also only two years of coursework,” said Ms. Nagel said “so even though it’s a six-, seven-year degree, there’s only two years of where I’d have to deal with the quarter system and the commute.”

Senior Sara Adatto, who took Ms. Nagel’s “Interrogating Evil in Literature” class last year, said she appreciated the amount of freedom and creativity students were allowed in their assignments. 

“They weren’t just essays, but they were assignments that you could interpret in your own ways and you could approach the assignment in many ways,” said Sara. “I liked how the class pushed you to challenge yourself and try things that you normally wouldn’t do.”

I always tell my students I’m preparing them for college and I’m really curious when I TA and I’m teaching first-years in college, have I been preparing you correctly?”

— Ms. Nagel

Challenging students to think about how a quote or character could be interpreted — and also pushing everyone to participate — led to engaging class conversations and debates. 

“I think her class has helped me become independent,” said Sara, “and helped me to look at books on my own and form my own thoughts and not just be told ideas by my teacher.”

Alumna Clara Sandler ‘19 said Ms. Nagel made her a better critical thinker and analyst of text. Clara had Ms. Nagel in 11th grade for British Literature and again in 12th grade for SAS Jewish Literature. 

“She really made you think and forced you to work with the text, and learn the text, and become one with the text,” said Clara, “and by pushing us to critically think about whatever we were reading or doing, she made us better writers, better readers and better analysts.” 

Rooted in the texts they read, Ms. Nagel’s Jewish Literature class inspired deep conversations about Jewish identity, Clara said.

“I really valued how real she was with her students, especially in Jewish Literature,” said Clara. “We talked a lot about our Jewish identities and tied what we were learning or reading about to what it means to be a Jew in the 21st century, and what it means to be a Jew in the world period, and where ourselves are tied to our Judaism we talked a lot about.”

Ms. Nagel said she had originally planned to teach and work on her Ph.D. simultaneously, but complications in scheduling and commuting to Orange County made it too difficult to juggle both. 

As well as requiring in-person attendance in Irvine, the UC system changes its schedule every quarter, which means class times would change every 10 weeks. 

In the first year of her doctoral program, Ms. Nagel has to take nine courses, three per quarter. In the second year, she has to take six courses, as well as work as a teacher assistant. 

Ms. Nagel hopes that what she learns in school and her experience being a teacher’s assistant will help her be a better teacher.

“I always tell my students I’m preparing them for college and I’m really curious when I TA and I’m teaching first-years in college, have I been preparing you correctly? Is what we do in college going to be what I’ve been preparing you for? I think those kinds of experiences will really help me be a stronger teacher in the long run.”