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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

English instructor shares worldly travels, ideas

English+instructor+shares+worldly+travels%2C+ideas

By Dylan Leverett/reporter

Geoffrey Saari urges students to engage in art

SE Campus instructor Geoffrey Saari has taught Iranian helicopter pilots and Chinese students as well as community college students in frozen upper New York state and sunny Southern California.

SE English instructor Geoffrey Saari has taught ESL in Iran, literature in China and now sponsors both the SE Poetry and Photography clubs. Photo by Linah Mohammad/The Collegian
SE English instructor Geoffrey Saari has taught ESL in Iran, literature in China and now sponsors both the SE Poetry and Photography clubs.
Photo by Linah Mohammad/The Collegian

Today, he teaches mainly English courses, but the well-traveled instructor is also the sponsor of both the SE Poetry and Photography clubs.

Saari, who grew up in Mineral Wells, began his teaching career after graduating from the University of Chicago in 1976. He said he wanted to see the world and left the U.S. for Iran to become an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for Iranian helicopter cadets.

He taught for three years until the Islamic Revolution began. After being under house arrest, he was evacuated by the American military.

“When I came back, I was young,” he said. “I was still not ready to settle in one spot.”

Saari’s travels brought him to California where he taught as an adjunct at the University of California at Los Angeles, California Institute of Technology and Loyola Marymount — all the while enjoying the beach life. He taught in California throughout the ’80s and ’90s.

“I wasn’t full time at any of those places, so I was driving around L.A. teaching and body surfing when I could,” he said.

In 1979, Saari’s wife, then a teacher at UCLA, joined a Chinese exchange program for teachers, so they moved to China. He taught English literature to Chinese students at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.

“The students had already learned English through years of study, but they hadn’t had much exposure to someone teaching them literature from a Western perspective,” he said.

Saari noticed a shift in China and its once predominantly communist culture.

“The students were mainly curious about Western values and that people in literature were free to say what they wanted because most of my students grew up during the Cultural Revolution (in the 1960s),” he said. “If you didn’t follow the party line very closely, you risked torture, death, imprisonment or exile.”

It was a novelty, he said, for a Westerner to teach them literature.

“It was like playtime, a place were they could think and do things that they hadn’t been able to do before,” he said.

Saari returned to the U.S. and began teaching at Orange County Community College in Middletown, N.Y., before returning to Texas to take care of his aging parents in 2007.

“I didn’t want to continue shoveling snow in New York,” he said. “I wanted a warmer climate, to do something different.”

That led him to TCC, where he now works with those in the Photography and Poetry clubs.

“Students have an artistic impulse that they want to express through poetry or photography,” he said.

On April 15 in the SE Library, the Poetry Club held a Poetry Slam, and Saari was on hand to present awards to student poets.

“Several students felt very shy about presenting in front of the group, but they did,” he said. “They were smiling and saying, ‘I felt really good doing that.’”

Saari hopes to hold another poetry exhibition in the fall as well as the spring Poetry Slam next year.

“In both clubs, they can be very sensitive as artists, and you have to nurture and support them to help make them confident in their abilities and comfortable as an artist to not be afraid to speak up through their art,” he said.

The Internet can be a helpful publishing tool for aspiring artists, Saari said.

“In terms of photography, it’s a great way for photographers to get their work out there with Tumblr, Instagram, all these places.” he said. “There aren’t enough eyeballs for all the stuff that’s out there.”

His role as an instructor offers him opportunities to be thoughtful and dramatic, he said.

“I enjoy thinking about stuff, and being an academic — that’s your job to think about stuff,” Saari said. “Teaching allows you to be a little bit of a showman. You’re always on the stage in the classroom, and I kind of like that.”

Saari believes that art enriches a student’s self-awareness.

“I want students to be engaged whether they’re creating art or viewing it, to understand that it enhances their own understanding of themselves as human beings,” he said.

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