Antwan Babakhani: West’s Iron Wolf


Antwan Babakhani focusing on work in his office.

By Adisa Ozegovic, Staff Writer

Director of Student Services Antwan Babakhani trains twice daily. He wakes up at 3:00 a.m. and begins his first session a half-an-hour later. Shortly after the end of the school day, he undergoes his second session. His workouts always consist of some form of swimming, biking, and running: the three components of the Ironman triathlon.

The Ironman is an annual, 17-hour long triathlon where athletes line up at the waterfront to begin the race with the 2.4-mile swim, followed by 112 miles of biking, and, finally, a full marathon.

To Babakhani, the triathlon is a test of endurance and character, not of ability.

“I enjoy [triathlons] because they’re fitting to my personality. These races are about testing yourself,” Babakhani said. “It takes you to the edge of who you are. It strips you. At that moment, you’re 100% vulnerable. Every time I do one of these races, it takes me to the edge of who I am, but I learn something about myself each time.”

By the race’s 13th hour, he recounts how his body begins to feel unbelievable pain: his calves cramp up; his stomach has difficulty taking in anymore Gatorade, his primary form of hydration; and his body virtually screams to stop.

By mile 15, Babakhani begins sobbing. Though he wants to give up, he knows that if he does, he’ll let himself and his family, who wait to cheer him on at every race, down.

Despite the intense pain, watching himself succeed and his times decrease motivates Babakhani; he loves seeing himself progress over time.

“I love the data of improvement,” Babakhani said.

Physical health is an important factor for Babakhani. Though he has endured immense pain (he once suffered from abdomen tears), he continues to work out for the overarching benefits and clarity it provides him.

Along with physically challenging himself, Babakhani’s love for his work is a huge part of his life. He initially started out as an English teacher, something that is not difficult to fathom considering the large bookcase behind his desk.

In fifth grade, Babakhani’s English teacher became his inspiration for becoming a teacher. Unlike previous classes, his English class helped him develop a better understanding of his own self-identity and contribution.

“I think people who go into teaching are inspired by certain people in their lives who have impacted them. For me, it was pretty early. [The teacher helped me develop this hunger.] The hunger for learning; the passion for learning,” Babakhani said. “Prior to that, it was all about going to school and doing your homework. Once I got into his classroom, it [became] being a student and then some. It was really about figuring out who you are, your identity, your contribution.”

In college, he completed his required student teaching at Glenbard East High School, after which he subbed for a teacher on maternity leave. The following year, he began working as an English teacher at Amundsen High School.

His primary obstacle at Amundsen was teaching struggling readers, later becoming his inspiration to return to college for his Masters in Reading Degree after only one year of teaching.

As he progressed with his own college-level learning, Babakhani continued teaching and establishing his own fundamental beliefs on education. To him, his primary duty was to build relationships with his students and help them develop a love for learning.

Babakhani’s current role in the administration is much different than what it once was. Instead of working one-on-one with students, he oversees all student services — which includes counselors, school psychologists, and nurses among other positions.

Executive secretary, Susan Johnson, is grateful that she gets to work with him every day. In her opinion, the two have an unprecedented work-bond that she believes is rare at work.

“He doesn’t even have to say something, I know what he’s thinking. He makes it really easy. I am very thankful that he hired me for the job,” Johnson said.

According to counselor Happi Bills, Babakhani does an excellent job of leading the administration through his continuous support and faith.

“He is really, I’m not making this up, an incredibly amazing boss,” Bills said. “He has a gift for being a leader because he trusts you, has faith in you, and supports you to find answers.”

Though his position at West is different, Babakhani’s love for his profession hasn’t changed one bit.

“My zest for the craft hasn’t diminished at all,” Babakhani said. “I’m still very excited about working with different teachers and different administrators because we’re all working towards the same thing: getting students to find their goal in society and their passion.”