Teaching is in my DNA. It’s not something I do. It’s something I breathe and live and it is literally a part of my genetic makeup. This may sound dramatic; however, if I were to trace the roots of my journey as a teacher to almost a hundred years before I was born, it may have something to do with who I am today.
At a time when receiving an education was somewhat of a luxury, my great-grandfather was the headmaster of an all-boys school in Bidya, a village in Palestine. Many years later, his daughter Hind, my paternal aunt, became the headmistress of two schools in Kifil Haris and Beita, two small towns on the outskirts of Nablus, Palestine. Her brother, my father, received a scholarship in the 1950s to get his undergraduate degree at the University of Cairo, and after that, he was granted two scholarships to receive his Masters and PhD in Education from Ohio State University. My maternal aunt was also a headmistress for 20 years at a school in Ramallah, Palestine.
Fascinated by birds since childhood, I thought my destiny was to experience flight by becoming a pilot. I didn’t pay attention to the fact that my genetic makeup was beginning to make its way into my being in a variety of ways.
At school there was a science fair every year and my father always helped me come up with an experiment that would baffle my classmates and teachers. He didn’t do the work, but guided me with the reasoning and physics behind what I would present on that day.
Visiting the high school where my father spent his days and writing on the black board with chalk that would leave my hands and clothes powdery and white filled me with a sense of importance. I had access to classrooms and labs that kids my age did not. It felt like having a special back stage pass at a rock concert. I could go into any lab I chose and simply wander around and gaze at mysterious instruments, glass containers, tubes and colorful liquids. I was even allowed to look at exam questions and sometimes my dad would give me an answer key and say that I was a teacher for an hour. I got to grade papers!
Years later, I would visit one of my father’s classes at the University of Jordan. Positioning myself as inconspicuously as I could, I observed my father lecture with love. It was a science education class and he was making references to what an effective assessment should look like and the thought process behind formative and summative mechanisms for monitoring student progress. It was Chinese to me. I had no idea what all this meant, but the attentiveness of his students was enough for me to say that what was happening in the room at that moment was magical. My father was preparing a group of teachers to become the best they could be. Their lives would ultimately impact the lives of thousands of children across the kingdom, and I got to witness a snapshot of this. I cannot say that during those moments over 20 years ago, I knew that I would be reflecting on them now. Nor can I say that I decided to become a teacher at that moment, but I know that what was happening in that room was something profound.
Reading this, you may be wondering why I have left out a big portion of my schooling and why I have not made reference to a teacher who, at some point, inspired me to become who I am today. The sad truth is that I did not have inspiring teachers. I went to public schools in Amman and my memories of growing up were that I was always treated like an outsider and was constantly referred to as the “ajnabiyeh,” the foreign one. The fact that the way I looked did not blend well with my surroundings and that my Arabic was weak because my formative years were spent in Canada only compounded my feelings of alienation. This is not to say that I am not thankful because I am, very much so. I thank the teachers who disliked their jobs, who treated me unfairly and even the ones who hit me a few times. I thank them because if it were not for them, I would never really have known who I did not want to be like. They created in me a need to be different and to give kids the opportunity to have a teacher who can be caring and inspiring.
So, to go back a mere nine years ago, which will take me to the most current part of my career, I accepted an offer to work at a school which came into being because of the late King Hussein. Although he passed years before this school was established, it was because of his decision to send his son to a boarding school in the United States that King’s Academy became a reality. Upon succeeding is father to the throne, HM King Abdullah II laid the foundation for what is now one of the best schools in the Middle East and maybe even the world.
As the lands surrounding Madaba gave birth to this monumental educational institution, my journey as a teacher, and ultimately as an administrator, began. It started with a man and woman who believed in my abilities to become a leader and as time passed, I was given the opportunity not only to teach but also to guide teachers on the path to becoming better educators. What I get to do now reminds me of the lectures my father gave so many years ago.
I can’t say that my dream to fly never materialized because I do get to fly. Reading great works of literature and teaching them allows me to soar higher than any bird could reach. And although I never had the chance to be the pilot I once dreamed I could be, my students, and often teachers, are the passengers who allow me to take them to heights they never thought they could attain.
At 15, my first teacher and mentor, my mother, gave me a copy of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet. His words on teaching have stayed with me ever since:
The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads to the threshold of your own mind.