I have always loved learning and teaching and I vaguely remember ‘teaching’ my parents, siblings and dolls the things I learnt while in nursery school.
Growing up, I was fortunate to be exposed to good and dedicated teachers and learning were seamless for me. The expectation for an individual with good grades was to enrol for a professional course like medicine, law, engineering, etc and I didn’t disappoint. I enrolled to study veterinary medicine which I found to be quite valuable but in my heart, I knew I wanted to become a teacher.
I got the opportunity a few years later when I started as a part time teacher at my children’s school while still running a poultry consultancy business. I found the job immensely rewarding as I interacted with the learners and saw them blossom daily. One main reason I was an asset to the school was my penchant for researching different activities which were highly engaging and different from the mundane.
I dove into teaching fully, as I couldn’t fight the fact that it was my true calling, and completed a post-graduate diploma in Education. A few close friends and family couldn’t understand why I didn’t just become a lecturer if I wanted to impart knowledge but my main focus was young children whom I felt I could help lay a solid foundation.
After about seven years as a teacher, I got a job as an academic coordinator. I still loved teaching and still got to do that but was happy to be able to share my vision with other teachers in my new role. I believe in continuous professional development and striving to stay abreast of world best practices; taking courses on Coursera really helped open my eyes to different pedagogical techniques and possibilities. I looked forward to building a community of practice where we could all share and learn together. I was fortunate to have a group of energetic teachers in my team and we held regular in-house and external trainings. The introduction of the one million teachers blackbelt program to our school made the task so much easier. We nominated twenty teachers for the online training and got them to cascade some of the things they learnt to others. This meant that I was no longer the only one with access to world classs knowledge (via coursera) and it also gave our teachers the opportunity to showcase their training and speaking skills. We had built capacity which I was proud to be a part of.
I was contented in my professional path but felt I should and could contribute more to the society. I wished that I could be of benefit to the disadvantaged children but I dared not apply for a government job due to the fear of frustration and ineffectiveness. (I cringe when I imagine a single teacher with over a hundred learners). At a point, I even promised myslef that I would volunteer at the IDP camps but my tight schedule always seemed to be a convenient excuse.
The advent of the COVID 19 outbreak and the subsequent lock down gave me the time (though we were the fortunate few that were still able to teach online for reduced hours) and space to commence advocacy on reading and emotional intelligence via social media posts and live videos. I could see my efforts yielding fruits as I encouraged parents and caregivers to include reading in their daily routines to improve literacy. I was able to also give online remediation classes to some learners for a small fee but yet I had not achieved my dream of helping the less privileged till the HHMSII SDG challenge was launched. It pushed me to pursue my dream of having a mobile library with my partner, Fawza. I was thrilled that The Reading Room was selected for the incubator programme and I must say that it changed my life remarkably. We were trained on many aspects of running our projects and we got to learn many new things. We were also honoured to attend a fund raising for the challenge where our efforts as teachers were recognised and applauded and the experience, though surreal, entrenched my belief that I was definitely born to lead through teaching. Teaching gave me the wings to soar and I have not looked back.
Our project – targeted at children aged 5 to 12, not only involved giving the children access to books but also explicitly teaching comprehension skills (which they lacked and which often hampered their progess in school), teaching decoding through the use of phonics in many instances and training volunteers on how to teach reading. My experience has been humbling and fulfilling. We always have fun and I have learnt so much from the children especially regarding creativity and resilience. We usually have creative response tasks designed from the books that we read aloud, and every single time the children innovate in manners we did not envision. I look at them and see the hope of our nation and I am glad to be a component of the launching pad to their future success as readers and critical thinkers.