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I was recently invited to make a guest appearance in a High School Social Studies & Politics class in Vermont by the teacher who follows my twitter feed and reads my blog. I was deeply humbled by the invite and by the fact that the teacher had gone beyond the call of duty to ask someone from the Middle East to answer student’s questions.

I liked the idea a lot from an educator’s perspective. What better way to build bridges and to shatter false images and misconceptions painted by the media than by exposing students to someone who is Egyptian and actually lives there?

A trip to Vermont would have been ideal but out of the question at the beginning of the academic year, so thanks to modern technology, I could be in two places at once with the help of Skype. After  a couple of test runs and agreeing on a day and time that suited both time zones, the questions which the students wanted to ask were sent to me in advance so that I could mull over how I would answer them and what I would say. As well as checking information and sources to make sure the information that I was discussing was indeed factual.

As the day approached my nerves were on edge as well as boiling over with excitement. I was nervous because I was stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to a group of young strangers thousands of miles away and I felt a bit like a diplomat representing my country. I posted the event in my group on facebook so that my readers would know. I was quite flattered by all the words of encouragement from friends and acquaintences who sent me words of encouragment and told me how proud they were of me for doing this.

The day of the interview I was invited to my sister’s in-laws for brunch. I was terrified that I would not make it home in time for 3pm, so I took my laptop and all my research with me just in case, (and it was a good thing I did too). I have to thank my brother-in-law and his family for allowing me to take up a corner of their sitting room while they session took place. I am very grateful.

Friday 28th of September at 3P.M Cairo local time the Skype video call began …                                                                                                                                          (I can’t remember all of my answers verbatim, but I will do my best to recall my responses as best I can)

The teacher that I had been communicating with was present along with another Social Studies teacher, the Principle of the school and the students        (talk about nerve-racking!!).  For 45 minutes I was asked questions and discussed Egypt and the region.

The first question I was asked was ‘Why did you agree to Skype with us?’

My answer was simple, Why not? How else are we going to build bridges and destroy misconceptions if we don’t learn from one another?

The second question was ‘Would there be any repercussions for speaking with us?”

No, not in my case, I’m not a political blogger and I don’t write anything negative about the government, the president or religion so I have not been red flagged.

What is the current political situation in Egypt?

Well, we finally have a president! Part of the parliament has been dissolved, the president tried to overrule the decision and allow them to be reinstated but he was over ruled again by the Supreme Court, so we don’t really know what’s going to happen with them.  Then there’s the writing of the new constitution.

Can women run for public office in Egypt?

Yes, they can. We had a woman named Bothaina who was in the presidential elections but, she didn’t get enough votes to carry her through. We also have other women in parliament.

 

What was it like for you during the Arab Spring?

(Never a simple answer and I couldn’t help but let out a big sigh)

Having lived in Saudi Arabia and remembering the signs of what happened during the Gulf War, I knew something was going to happen. I started to read and follow many of the revolutionaries on twitter. I prepared myself for the worst, made sure I had provisions in the house and on the 28th of January I asked a Canadian friend and colleague of mine to come and stay with me because she didn’t know what was happening and didn’t speak the language. There isn’t a word in the dictionary to describe what we experience. We had no clue what was going to happen from one minute to the other. There were riot police and then the police were dissolved. Saturday 13000 prisoners were released from prison taking the ammunition that was in the stations and that’s when chaos broke loose. Boys your age and younger were out in the streets armed with whatever they could find, planks of wood, kitchen knives, candle stick holders, Molotov cocktail bombs to defend their neighborhood and their homes from petit thieves and dangerous criminals who were heavily armed. It was a terrifying experience. Things have calmed down a lot since then, but even months afterwards you always looked over your shoulder.

How do Egyptian people view the United States? Is there a difference between how they view the government and the American People?

Egyptian’s don’t hate Americans. They don’t dislike foreigners. We need foreigners to come to Egypt for our tourism. Tourism is our source of money (I had meant to say income, but the word escaped me). We just don’t like your foreign policy.

(I am sure many will disagree with me on this point, but that is how I perceive things to be)

There were many questions that followed these but I cannot remember their chronological order or how I answered them.

While answering the questions I didn’t notice how fast the time had passed and when the bell rang I couldn’t believe a class period had flown by. I wasn’t sure what the student’s impression of the video call was. It was hard for me to see their faces and to know if they found it engaging or not. Once the student left the class I spoke with both teachers for a little while longer. I won’t know the verdict on the experience until next week, but I did get an email from the class teacher the following day. It read;
“Hi Irish!

A number of students have come to me and said they enjoyed speaking with you and wondering if they would be able to do it again. That’s a good sign. Our principal who left three quarters of the way through was very impressed with you and happy that you too took the time to speak with our students. He actually said he got chills up his spine a couple of times when you were speaking. Again that is a good sign. Thanks so much for taking the time to do what you did. It’s a great learning experience for myself and my students. Hopefully we can find some other ways we can break down some of the misconceptions of both Egyptians and Americans with our students. If there is anything you can think of or anyway we can bring students together through this source of media please let me know. “

An even further update on how the skype talk went;

” You have received many positive comments and none negative. Greg who you talked with after the class felt that you had a great persona on camera. I agree with him on that and its not easy to do on skype.

I spoke to one student’s mother who said her son came home and talked  about the class’s conversation with you. He said he really liked it.  This is from a student who usually doesn’t appear to interested in  class.
The students commented on your English and how good it was.. They wondered if it would be hard to understand you. They all said they would like to do it again.

I hope you would be willing. As I told you I think if they get more comfortable with you and you them it would be interesting to see where the conversation leads just in regards to daily life in Egypt and the United States. Perhaps the average person’s goals, dreams, hopes for the future etc, so that they see people are not really that different regardless of what country they live in.

I asked them if they felt you had answered their questions and they felt you had done a good job of that. I heard them laugh a number of times during your talk due to the expression on your face in regards to a question or answer. This indicates that they picked up on your facial expressions and body language. I believe they felt that you were much like them instead of this perception they may of you. “

Primary School Students in Alexandria-Photo by Thom Harwell

Primary School Students in Alexandria-Photo by Thom Harwell

The entry below is hypothetical; it is something I have been mulling over in my mind for quite some time. Being an educator I have found that one of the many joys of teaching is being able to pass on knowledge to the future generations. I have dreams and hopes that one day the Egyptian people will climb back up to the top and impress us with their capabilities once again and achieve great things.
For decades we have been experiencing a brain drain. Families who have had the means have immigrated to foreign countries to seek a better life and education for the children. The education system I regret to say, presently is not nurturing our nation’s future. With classrooms that hold between 30-70 students in a single class, how on earth can the system expect teachers to be able to reach or teach students? It isn’t a wonder that there is an abundance of private tuition that goes on!
If Egypt is to change, the education system and its curriculum has to be one of its focal points.
If I was given the opportunity to be Minister of Education, I would make a lot of changes, which  would also probably put a price tag on my head and move me to the top of many people’s HIT LISTS, but somebody has to step up to the plate and take charge.
Egyptians at one point in history were the leaders in Science and Mathematics, the Pharaohs were living proof of that. Over decades our position among the leading educated nations has slipped to the lower end of the spectrum which is very upsetting.

 
The public school system, (by public I mean government run schools) is lacking in so many areas that it is very difficult to find a starting point. Below are a few areas that I have been thinking about, but before I do that, let me paint a visual picture of what a ‘Government School’ is like; the following paragraph you are about to read is an excerpt from my Masters Comprehensive Exam Essay;

 
“For me to describe the ‘high quality education’ that I envision for schools in Egypt In the 21st century I need to give a brief description of what public/government run schools are like presently.”

 
“The land and building on which the schools are built on are not only structurally depressing to look at but to be in. The exterior walls of the school are colorless and lifeless. They look more like prison blocks than they do institutions for learning. The classrooms are small, poorly lit, desks are crammed in tightly next to one another to form as many rows as possible. There is a huge worn out chalkboard at the front of the room where the teacher stands and regurgitates and spoon feeds lessons. Students from as low as 30-70 in a classroom is best described as a can of sardines. The play area is a small patch of land with sand. I won’t even go in to describing the washroom facilities because I will only make you queasy. The sounds that ring out and across the school are mainly the voices of teachers shouting their lessons, banging their desk, children reciting and repeating phrases and scolding. “
This is not learning… this is programming. If the founding Theorists of Education could see the state of these schools, they would probably be turning in their graves. I don’t know how we as a nation have allowed or permitted education to be put on a back burner and for our countries future to be taught under these conditions.
For the school system to improve we need to improve not only the conditions of the learning institutions but we need to rectify teaching methods, because they are stuck in a time warp. Teachers need to teach not only for the present time but for the future.  Educators need to be re-educated themselves, sending them all back to school probably isn’t going to be feasible and will be very expensive, so an alternate way to go about doing this would be by asking teachers who have gained their Teaching Certificates or Masters in Education to volunteer their time to show teachers different methods and techniques for teaching phonemic awareness, reading, math fundamentals, writing, free thinking as well as how to plan a lesson. These courses would cost the teachers nothing and it would be in the form of ongoing professional development that in addition to asking teaching professionals, we would also extend the invitation to professors to lecture them in theory and practices as well as child psychology.
While the teachers are being re-educated I would have the employees of the Ministry of Education evaluate the current curriculum and together decide what areas need to be amended, changed or dropped all together. Part of the revamping of the curriculum will include hands on learning. Let’s face it, there is so much you can learn from a text-book and not everyone can absorb what the teacher is lecturing about.  According to Howard Gardener there multiple Intelligences, (http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm ), in summary means there are several ways people learn and we as a nation need to understand and accept that. Knowledge of the world and its people is something students need to be exposed to. We fear what we do not understand, the more we understand, the less fear we have of the outside world. I would also insist that trades men from the rural areas demonstrate and show students their trade and teach them some of the skills. This would be a stepping stone to start building pride in professions as well as a sense of community.

I don’t expect that with the wave of my pointer all shall be fixed and there won’t be any problems. A lot of damage has been done and a lot of rectifying will be met with resistance. I don’t expect everything to be fully implemented for at least 5-10 years, but changes would be underway before the start of the academic year of 2012, if I had my way, that is.
How to put money back in to the schools and the school system?
I have no idea what the government’s budget is for education or if there are any funds for that matter, so I am going to presume that we have NONE.  To find funding for this enormous project is far from being easy. One idea that does come to mind would be to re-invest a percentage of the sales of the needed textbooks and uniforms back in to the schools as well as having a percentage of our salaries taxed to be reinvested in to the education system. By this we would be making sure the classrooms would be in a condition that is safe and a comfortable learning environment.  We would also be able to reduce the number of students in classrooms and increase teachers’ salaries. Each classroom would have the proper lighting, ventilation and furniture and eventually resources. The bathroom facilities would be sanitary and the playground a place where students can enjoy running around and playing at recess.

 
I would also look for private and public donations by setting up an account for people to donate money to help improve the education system. I’m sure along the road my team and I would find other ways and means of finding funds.
I know that I am probably going to be shot for having suggested that we pay a tax where the money goes towards the education system, but if we profess to love this country as much as we do, shouldn’t we reinvest in it and by doing so through the education so that the future generations of Egypt, lead this country out of the third world country bracket but towards the 21st century and a better nation?
Education is the weapon to fighting ignorance and I hate to be the one to admit it or to point it out, but there is a lot of it here. For Egypt to make a 180 degree turn in the right direction, we need to educate the people of this nation, re instill the self-worth and pride in who they are. If we accomplish that, trust me their voices will grow strong along with their spirits. We need to start from ground zero, from those who are less fortunate than most and work our way up. Think of it as rebuilding our heritage.

On a final note, from what I have been reading on twitter, there is a movement called #tweetback that is working towards raising money for a slum on development projects, aside from regular donor packages, they are adding a twitter campaign component. The recipients of the donations are Ezbet Kheiralla. I know that they are also working towards improving the conditions of some of the schools in that area, if you would like to contribute;
“#tweetback  donations: CIB Bank, Semiramis Branch, acct number 2240000220-SWIFT CIBEEGCX 002, under name Peace and Plenty.
As relayed to me by @TravellerW-Mohamed El Dahshan on twitter.

I officially started in the field of Education in 2000, when I graduated from University. I had dreams of climbing the corporate ladder and bringing home a 6-8 figure salary by the time I was 30. Those dreams were shattered very quickly. The corporate world in Alexandria didn’t want me, a female because I would eventually want to marry and would have kids, so I wouldn’t be able to put in the time they wanted or be as dedicated as they needed me to be. So, I took a job as a Teacher Assistant at one of the schools. From there I moved to another school and was mentored by trained and qualified teachers from the U.K. It was there I caught the teaching bug and wanted to get my qualifications.

In 2006, I was told that The College of New Jersey was extending their global program to Cairo. The program is an American Teaching Certificate, where professors from the reputable College of New Jersey come for 10 days to give an intense and condensed course in the subjects needed to earn a Teaching Certificate. Tough doesn’t even begin to describe what you have to endure to get through the curriculum, readings, written assignments, projects, presentations and discussions, as well as working full-time and going to class after work until 8:30-9pm at night. With the possibility of having to go home and do assignments, project work and lots of reading! A whole semester/term in 10 days is no joke. If you commit to it, you have to REALLY want it. Social life… becomes none existent during that time or anything else for that matter. The courses would be offered as often as 3-5 times a year in order to earn teaching qualifications. 8 courses, 3 credits each to earn a teaching certificate. 11 courses, 3 credit hours each to earn a Master’s degree + a comprehensive exam.

From 2006-2008 I pushed myself like I had never done before to get through the program. I am not going to lie to you, by the 7th day you are mentally exhausted, drained of energy and sleep deprived. My own father didn’t even believe that I could do it. Truth be told, I even had my doubts. I really wanted to be certificate because it is Internationally recognized, so I persevered and pushed forward. I can tell you in all honesty, it was worth every cent spent, sacrificing my social life and every minute I took away from sleeping. In August 2008, I had earned my teaching certificate and  it opened new doors for me. I was able to work in reputable  Schools in Cairo, that only hired qualified teachers. After 2 years of continuous studying, I took time off to rejuvenate and recuperate from all the studying and enjoy life. I am just hours away from completing my Masters in Education. This final push to the finish line has made way for bigger opportunities. As of September 2011, I will be working in one of the BIG International schools in Cairo. Having this school on my CV, means that I can more or less work in any International School world-wide!

Another great thing about the program is that you have the opportunity to do courses in other countries during the year or summer. The courses are offered in Thailand and Majorca, Spain. It’s a great chance to visit new countries, experience new cultures and network. You meet teachers from around the ‘globe’.

In Cairo you also meet some very strong, inspiring and dedicated women whom really want to make a difference in their teaching, classroom and in the education system. We don’t only learn from the visiting professors, we learn a great deal from one another too. During these courses you form a friendship or a bond that is fueled by genuine desire for change. We are all in the same boat and have all decided to become the front line soldiers fighting against ignorance, striving for change and reform in the field of education here in Egypt.

Since 2006 there have been 3 classes whom have graduated with a Master’s degree in Education and there will be many more to follow in our wake.

If you are in Egypt or a neighbouring country and are considering or looking in to becoming a qualified teacher look in to the TCNJ Global Program. AUC (American University of Cairo) also offers a teaching certificate program now. Check them both out and see which best suites you.

                                                      Dedicated to making a difference one child or class at a time!

 The academic year of 2010/2011 has been one of the toughest I have ever had to endure. I was ‘blessed’ with a class of 21 very unique students. All of whom are very different from the other, but all are interesting, strong-willed and very opinionated.

I have never had to work so hard to gain students respect and trust. I’ve had to work even harder to make the academics interesting enough for them to want to stay seated and silent long enough for me to teach the material, skills and concepts necessary.

I had thought on numerous occasions to just throw in the towel and call it quits. The money isn’t worth the daily struggle to be heard and I don’t think the students would even notice if I didn’t show up to work. I would convince myself that it wouldn’t be professional to walk away from a teaching post in the middle of an academic yea, it wouldn’t be fair to put such a burden on my colleagues  and I gave my word and being a bit old-fashioned, when I give my word, I honor it to the very end. People break their contracts and their word all the time, surely I’m not that stubborn or masochistic to want to continue to endure this? Is it something deeper or stronger that keeps me from packing up my books and resources?

I would also question my path, the direction I took in to becoming a teacher. Why, oh why!??!?! I could have been a litigator arguing my way in courtroom, a child psychologist or a woman in the corporate world making close to a six figure salary by now. Did I misread the signs? Did I miss my true calling?

For the past two days I have been hauled up alone in my apartment with infected tonsils. I’m the type of person who has to keep busy or I will start climbing the walls! I did some revision and reading for my upcoming masters course, cleaned out the fridge, vacuumed, mopped, blitzed the kitchen, cleaned the guest bedroom and moved things around to make it look homier…. Just to pass the time. I was about to start on my bedroom (again) when I came across an old file filed with some of my teaching resources and amongst the papers I came across a paper that I had printed out three years ago. It was an e-mail forward about a teacher. I’d like to share it;

“Perhaps this will cause all of us to look at those who choose the teaching profession through a different light.

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO decided to explain the problem with education. He argued “What is a kid going to learn from a person who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?”

He reminded the other guests what they said about teachers “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach” To stress his point he said to another dinner guest, “You’re a teacher Bonnie. Be honest what do you make?”  Bonnie who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied. “You want to know what I make.” (She paused for a second then began)

“Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could. I make a C+ feel like a Congress Medal of Honor. I make kids sit through 40 minutes at a time when their parents can’t make them sit for 5 without an iPod, Game Cube or a movie rental… You want to know what I make. (She paused and looked at each and every person around the table)

I make kids wonder

I make kids question

I make kids criticize.

I make kids apologize and mean it.

I make them respect and take responsibility for their actions.

I make my other student from other countries learn everything they need to know in English while preserving their unique cultural identity.

I make the classroom a place where all my students feel safe.

Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, follow their hearts they can succeed in life.

(Bonnie paused one last time)

Then when people try to judge me by what I make, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant…

You want to know what I make.

I make a difference. What do you make?

There is much truth in this Teacher’s statement. Teacher’s make every other profession. “

Thanks to Don Liston, I know know who the author of the forward is; the above was written by, Taylor Mali

(end of email forward)

 Having read the above, I now know why I haven’t been able to walk away, because even thought I might not see the results of my efforts immediately, I Do Make a Difference, each and day, of every working week or every academic year. So, if people want to turn their noses up at me because I teach, that’s fine. At least I had a hand in sculpting the future… and I can sleep with a clear conscience.

I have heard time and time again how are people to know what you want if you don’t speak up and ask for it. I have to be totally honest, I can’t argue with that. As much as I would like people to be able to read my thoughts as well as understand the workings of my very odd and somewhat complicated mind, they can’t, so, I have no choice but to speak up and ask for what I want. In Paulo Coelho’s book ‘The Alchemist’ and Rhonda Byrne’s, best-selling book that tells of “The Secret’ they say that ‘The Universe Is Conspiring To Work In Your Favor’ you just need to ask for what you want in a positive way and the universe will work its magic and in time, it will have it sent to you when every thing is aligned and it’s meant to be yours. ( I even have a few vison/dream boards to help me visualise what I want)

I have to admit that it has worked in my favor many times from the smallest thing like a parking spot to the job I have been dreaming of! Each time I receive what ever it is I have asked for, I make sure that I express my sincere gratitude for receiving what has been granted. Having said that there are 2 things I am still waiting on… 1) my books to be published  and 2)  to meet or be introduced to my life partner. In the past I have had the worst luck when it comes to romance! I’ve seen and experienced so much I would have the right to swear off men completely but I still have hope and a little faith left that I will get it right the next time. Although the experiences I have gone through have been enough to turn ones blood cold and cause great heartache, I have learned a valuable lesson from each and every one of them. I have learned to recognize those who are genuine in their affections and those who are only around for a bit of fun and to pass the time until another damsel catches their eye. The genuine ones are becoming fewer these days and are rare to find.

So, if all I have to do is ask, then so be it; I have a lot to gain and nothing to lose by simply asking politely

Dear Universe grant me the following if you please;

I would be eternally gratefully if you could orchestrate for an honest, reputable and professional illustrator and publishing house to show interest in my children’s books and offer me a book deal. I would like to be able to share the Egyptian culture that is part of my heritage with the rest of the world and show it through the eyes and lives of the characters in my books. With that a small handsome fortune that will assist me in taking care and looking after my parents.

My parent’s are comforted with the fact that their youngest daughter has found the man she wishes to spend the rest of her life with. They would also like to see me settled too while they are still able to dance to a beat. The man I am looking for first and foremost must be single and eligible! He has to be one of good family values, he needs to have sterling manners socially and at the table, he needs to be a man of intellect, one who is comfortable in his own skin and whom can speak and read Arabic and English very well (if he can speak more than 2 languages that is a plus). He must possess a sense of humour and finds enjoyment in music, movies and dancing. He needs to be responsible, respectable and successful at his job. He needs to be a man who is honest, genuine, kind, faithful, understanding, flexible and generous emotionally as well as financially.A man who is willing to help out around the house and have a hand in raising our children. I need a man who can appreciate me for who I am and who can understand my multicultural background as well as my liberal way of thinking and living. A man who is ready to settle down and have a family and to be a partner in the marriage as well as a good father.  If this man could be of mixed ethnicity, tall, with broad shoulders, fit physic, good-looking, have nice teeth, nice hands, nails and feet, with warm smiling eyes and good health, I would be very thankful.

Please grant my sister and her husband a healthy, happy and prosperous life together. May they always be blessed.

Please grant my parents health, laughter, joy, love and sound minds in the years that are to come.

Please help the people of Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria find the strength to regain control of their country and take back their identities. Guide them to a brighter, happier, prouder and prosperous future.

As you know universe, I love food! The tantalizing flavours and their many combinations are delicious. I have been successful these past few months in controlling myself and I am very proud and pleased with my accomplishments thus far, but if you could continue to help fuel my will power to reach my target weight and the image that I am aiming to achieve that would be grand!

Please continue to guide me a long life’s path and shine your light down on it to help me see the way, continue to show me the signs that I need to take note of so that I may continue on the course that I’m meant to take.

Universe, I would like to thank you for the small and big opportunities that you have brought my way. My life and career has been blossoming and moving in the direction that I had and continue to visualise for myself. I have been able to pay for my teaching certificate and masters without any financial aid or assistance. I have earned a reputation as an active, caring, creative and animated teacher. You have brought people of great value and friendship in to my life and have blessed me with a loving and caring family. I have grown to be a strong opinionated independent woman. You have opened the door for me in the field of writing and I have had many articles published in magazines. The list is endless and I am humbled by your generosity, thank you.

N.B The Image for my blog post was found at; http://www.photography-match.com/wallpapers/6862_digital_universe_189/

Diary Entry 9

Friday, 4th February 2011

 

‘Departure Friday’

 

 

I wake up with my nerves on edge. I am completely and utterly nervous. So nervous that I am nauseous filled with fear and dread. If the past two days have been bloody then God only knows what lies in store for the brave protesters today.

 

Today we anticipate more protesters to take to the streets and head towards Tahrir, but after seeing the event unfold on TV the past two days I am fearful for the lives of those who want to go, Becs and a few friends of ours too.

 

‘Please God, If you can hear me, let there be no blood shed today. Blow away those who want to inflict harm, violence and chaos.’

 

Every time I look at the clock or my watch the hands don’t appear to have moved. I feel as though everything is going in slow motion.

I sit and continue to type my diary entries out on to my lap top. As I peck away at my keyboard, I feel as though my intuition is picking up on the anxiety of everyone around me. My heart is racing, breathing heavily and a tightness forms in my chest. I try and over come the strange sensation, by taking deep breaths and exhaling slowly. Bec now is looking at me with concern and ask if I’m alright and if he can get me anything.

 

“God, I just want this day to pass”

 

Becs’s sister asks me if I want to accompany her at Makani, a café very close to the house. I think getting out of the house might be a good idea.

 

My Blackberry these days seems to be an extension of my hand. I check twitter every few minutes for up dates from trusted sources in Tahrir and in other areas of the country.

 

Friday prayer has commenced and the TV is showing rows upon rows of people worshiping, bowing and praying together shoulder by shoulder and in unison,

while others form a human chain around the people praying to protect them. The sight of the live footage on TV is empowering and moving. I am moved so much that a lump forms in my throat and my eyes begin to burn from holding back the tears.

 

This is a scene I have longed to see, where hang ups and walls between Muslims and Christians do not exist. They stand together as people, as Egyptians. I can not help but feel proud. How I want to be there and stand among them and witness the barriers between religion, classes and people come crashing down along with a regime that built it. I am thinking of ways of escaping the safety of Heliopolis to go there. A phone call from my mother quickly ends that. She calls to make sure that I am safe and nowhere near Tahrir! Grrrrrrrr

‘Are these the same people who had been fighting in self-defense the past two days?’

 

The world as I have been told by many have been glued to their TV sets for hours every day and today they will be as shocked as I am to see a different scene, a scene of unity and solidarity. Muslims and Christians standing together, what a vision, what a sight and what an example they are being to the world.

 

For the pas few years I have been teach in a school where my students have tried tirelessly to find out what faith I belong to. I never tell them because it shouldn’t matter what religion I practice. What should mater is what kind of person I am. We shouldn’t teach children to identify others by their practices. It’s wrong and that is what causes BIG problems and a huge rift in our country and society. I hope my students and the administration are watching this and will be inspired and learn from it.

 

Heba comes and joins us at Makani. I introduce her to Meeza we talk about how things are going right now in Tahrir. Heba shares my desire for wanting to go to Tahrir. She too has given her word to her parents that she won’t go. Her father calls her every day, early in the morning to make her promise that she will not go. He doesn’t want to have to worry about her, while he is out of the country. She alone understands and shares my frustration.

 

The café is filling up with more customers; the limited menu doesn’t turn them away. The change of scenery and being out of the house seems to be a common change that everyone is in need of. Being here sitting in a café makes me feel guilty. I feel as though I am not contributing or supporting. I am a firm believer in the freedom of speech, liberty and justice and for years I have been trying to break free from the chains that the country and society have tried to shackle me with and here I am sitting at a café!!!! What a hypocrite! ARGH!!!

 

I take my phone and check the tweets!

Reporters are having a tough time down on the ground. Military officials are confiscating cameras and detaining them. The safest place for them ironically is in Tahrir, where the protesters grant them refuge.

The square is turning in to a huge big out-door concert or festival with live music and dancing!

 

I should be there!

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on what has happened to EGC

The news of the historic school EGC being turned in to an ‘Experimental’ school came as a shock to not only the families, students and staff working at the school but to Alexandrians. No one is clear why the Minister of Education came to make such a rash decision as such. The rumor going around the city is that the accountant(s) and the board of governors have swindled the money from the amalgamated trust fund that had been set up for three English schools of Alexandria.  The English Girls School, (E.G.C, which Queen Sophia attended) and the British Boys School, (E.B.S) and the famous institution Victoria College (where King Hussein and Egyptian actor Omar Sherif attended)
Since my last post, I have heard through the grape-vine that all the teachers who previously had worked there have been dismissed, which is just wonderful because now the rate of unemployment is going to go up. The new administration locked out the students who had been attending the school, to teach them a lesson. The lesson that they are meant to learn from being locked out in the street is not to go against the Minister’s decision and protesting will not be tolerated.
So, now you have teachers out of work and hundreds of kids out of school! If these students are not permitted to re-enter the school, a bidding war may ensue. Schools unaffected by the decree will probably enroll the exiled students to the parents who are willing to pay the highest registration fees. The families of which these students come from are not from the rich class, they are from working class/middle class families that can not afford the International School fees.

The rumor circulating at the moment is that the newly in placed ‘Experimental’ schools are charging a tuition fee as low as 1000LE (which is approx 175$ or 112 Sterling Pounds) which means any Tom, Dick or Harry can put their child in that school. If that is the correct sum of which the schools is asking for, can someone explain how the maintenance of the structure will be kept, how much are they paying the cleaning staff, newly appointed teachers and administration? The historical building will be in ruins in less than 5 years time. Let me not even think of what the quality of education will be. It was bad before the decision was made, but I don’t think there will be any words to describe the quality that is to follow.

As an educator, I can’t even begin to fathom the trauma and stress the teachers and the students are going through and just a month or two before they are to sit their mid year exams? How could anyone of them even contemplate opening a book to study or revise the subjects, when their school as been snatched right from under their feet.
Could the ‘Minister of Education’ not have waited till the end of the academic year, so that the student’s academics wouldn’t have been disrupted and it would have also given the parents and the students the opportunity to look and enroll in other schools for the following year? That is if they would have been given fair warning.

No matter what angle you look at the situation, it could definitely have been handled with more decorum and sensitivity towards the teachers and the students.
I was browsing the net, trying to find updates on the situation and I came across a blog written by an Alexandrian and former student. In her blog she mentioned that the minister had accused the students of the schools to be from ‘riche well to do’ families. I don’t know who his sources are but the students who are attending the government controlled school are middle class citizens. If they were from the crème de la crème of Egyptian Society they would probably be in private or International Schools.

http://egyptianchronicles.blogspot.com/2010/12/can-egyptian-people-be-like-egc-girls.html

Which leads me to a hovering question, could this possibly be an act towards eradicating what is left of Alexandria’s Middle working class families?

If, I was a minister of education, MY sole concern would be the welfare of the students. I can’t help but think, what will become of the students who are due to sit Aadadeya, Sanaweya Aamah (Government Exams students sit in Grades 5, 11 and 12) and IGCSEs? Will they have to lose and entire year before they can sit the exams? If that is the way it is meant to be, then it is in my humble opinion, that the actions taken are education sacrilege and irresponsible, as well as an insult to the art and institution of what education stands for, (but that is just me).

What can be done to save the school? Would declare the building a National Land mark or heritage site work (or is that only taken seriously in the western world?) Would raising funds to buy the school back from the government be another option? Have International Media Coverage to add pressure to the Ministry? Can you repeal a minister’s decision? Will there be more schools to fall victim to the same fate?

 Brief history of E.G.C

http://baheyeldin.com/places/egypt/e-g-c/e-g-c-english-girls-college-or-el-nasr-chatby-college.html

1- EGC – Yehia GABR presents the EGC, Alexandria – the finest school in the world
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4x4v9XCi2w

2- video clips about the protests
http://www.masry-now.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1115%3A-qq-q-qq&catid=51&Itemid=162

3- ‘we are not experimental’ (E.B.S – E.G.C) facebook group
 
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=lf#!/pages/ahna-msh-tjrybyh-EBS-EGC/171491752889818?v=wall

The eve of December 27th, my mother was aimlessly checking her facebook news feed when she noticed that many of the people on her list had statuses pertaining to the historical schools of Alexandria. She called me over to read what had been written and to our shock, the Egyptian Minister of Education had changed the schools in to ‘experimental’ schools and he had also changed both school names. Current and former students of the school were furious that such a decision had been made. To make matters even more distasteful, the governing staff of the school didn’t inform the parents ahead of time that such a change was being made. The student’s found out after they had saluted the Egyptian flag and in their morning lines were told that the school was now called ‘Madrasat El Mustakbal ElTagrubeya’, which roughly translates to ‘Future Experimental School’. To add to the students shock, they told them that they were no longer permitted to say ‘Good Morning’ in English but the equivalent greeting in Arabic.

For those of you who are not from Alexandria, you might not be able to comprehend the loss that these people are experiencing, so let me give you a little background on the schools. The English Girls College opened 76 years ago, in October 1935 by a man named Sir Henry Edward Barker. The 20 acres of land on which the school was built on was donated by the Alexandrian Governorate. The school was a girl’s school. Students from K.G to High School attended. The facilities of the school were un like any other in the region. The Headmistress had her own quarters, which was a villa attached to the school, the school also had a dorm are for borders. One of the most famous borders was the current ‘Queen Sophia of Spain.’ I have done a search on Google to find out more information about E.B.S but I wasn’t successful.

When the news of the fate of both schools spread through the city like a wild-fire, protests in front of the Alexandria Governors building and outside the school began. Students boycotted school and dressed in black refusing to go in. The Niece of Egypt’s former President, Gamal Abdel Nasser a former EGCian herself announced on her facebook status that she was going to appear on television to voice her opinion about the wrongful decision that was taken.

Others member of the alumni are trying to get in touch with former classmates and graduates to raise awareness and to raise funds, in the hopes of keeping the schools names to preserve the history and preserve what the institution stood for, as well as trying to rebuild it to the way it used to be. The question that is looming in many people’s minds at the moment is ‘WHY was such a rash decision made?” I do not know for certain, but the rumor at the moment is, is that the board of trustees or members of the board of governors we steeling funds from the school, which landed both the schools in severe debt.

“Various school Trusts were therefore set up as charities to use the income to promote and maintain the teaching of the English language and culture in the Middle East, especially in Alexandria. In 1972, the Victoria College and English Girls School Trusts amalgamated into the Alexandria Schools Trust, and were joined in 1980 by the British Boys School Trust.

http://baheyeldin.com/places/egypt/e-g-c/e-g-c-english-girls-college-or-el-nasr-chatby-college.html

As you can imagine  a combined trust fund must have held quite a substantial amount of money.

I suppose if the rumor is true, it would explain the drop in standard and maintenance of the structures, but I don’t think changing the school in to an experimental one and its name is a way to improve the situation. I would have thought changing the board of governors, getting better teachers and contacting the alumni to help raise funds would have been a more logical and acceptable solution, but that’s just my opinion.

I wasn’t an EGCian, but in the years that I have lived in Alexandria, I have met a great number of the schools former teachers and Alumni and when I hear them re tell stories of their teaching experience or youth as a student their and see what ‘ladies of society and intellect’ the school produced, as an Alexandrian I am saddened by the thought that a Minister of Education would so easily want to wash away an important piece of our cities heritage and a legacy that had been built to educate.

The final blow and update that I have read in one of the E.G.C facebook groups is that the teachers have now been replaced. The question weighing on every ones mind now is, which school will be next to receive the devastating news?

Will it be Victoria College (aka Victory College), where King Hussein of Jordan and Omar Sherif Attended or will in be St. Marc the renowned French boys school?

Links referring to EGC and the protests against the Ministers decision are below;

1- EGC – Yehia GABR presents the EGC, Alexandria – the finest school in the world

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4x4v9XCi2w

2- video clips about the protests

http://www.masry-now.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1115%3A-qq-q-qq&catid=51&Itemid=162 3- ‘we are not experimental’ (E.B.S – E.G.C) facebook group http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=lf#!/pages/ahna-msh-tjrybyh-EBS-EGC/171491752889818?v=wall

Published in the September 2009 issue of (in)sight Magazine.

Why Can’t It be Ramadan Everyday?

A few nights before Ramadan,
And all across the nation,
People were bustling with anticipation.

They’d hustle, they’d bump, they’d swear as they drive,
Men fight with each other as well as their wives.

Boyfriends continue to ruin girlfriend’s lives,
With their cheating and lies, Oh, what a surprise!

Girl’s eye their competition with looks of despise
Stay at home Moms cook up rumors and lies

You liar! You thief! You crook! You stinker!
Are the words we hear and are left to linger.

On the eve of THE night and with a blink of an eye,
Halos are out and consciences rise
All must be good, for Ramadan has arrived.

The Month of Ramadan is upon us again. T’s a time for giving to the needy as well as a time for forgiveness and reflection. I love this time of year because families gather and spend some quality time with one another, break their fast together at Iftar and the gathering can some times go on until Suhour. People give willingly and in abundance to the less fortunate and what I love even more is that people’s tongues are curved!
From sunrise to sunset people pay close attention to what they say out loud to others instead of damning someone’s house to fall down on them and flaring in to a temper and cursing every member of another person’s family! (You know which words I mean! We’ve all used them!). People are more conscious of their actions and use of words. Our day to day lives are stressful, there are times when you vent and say things that can be really hurtful. You’re always on the go and rushing here and there for appointments and social gatherings. Spending an hour or two with the kids when they get home from school to ask how their day was and what things they learned, is something you would love to be able to do, but you have to work late or you can’t because you have to get your hair done and have a manicure done for a dinner party you’re going to. Guy’s don’t think you’ve been let of the hook so easily! The men have business appointments at all crazy hours. Then there’s the male bonding time with buddies and there’s also maintaining that Baywatch chiseled physic by paying a daily pilgrimage to the gym. Be honest, most of you would much rather watch paint dry than be stuck at home listening to your mothers moaning, kids running round asking endless series of questions and your wives nagging.
There are two things that truly amaze me during this incredible month. The first is how ‘good’ everyone becomes. The tangled webs of deceit cease to be spun, hell even the thieves stop stealing. It’s as though a wish or a spell has been cast where everyone becomes honest and angelic, like Jim Carey’s character in the movie ‘Liar, Liar’. The second thing that completely throws me is how by some miracle and with a wave of a magic wand, during Ramadan people make the extra effort and can find the time to help the needy, spend time with their family, and be courteous and kind to others. Now, if memory serves me correctly there are 24 hours in a day every month of every year, no matter which calendar we go by. So, could someone please explain to me ‘Why is it ONLY possible in Ramadan and not throughout the year?’ Surely, if we all spoke nicely to one another all year round, there would be less rudeness and negativity and there would be more cheer and it would set a better example for the younger generation. If we gave more to others throughout the year, we would feel better about ourselves all year long instead of just for a month. If we did practice the lessons of Ramadan throughout the year we would appreciate everything we have and count our blessing, instead of constantly complaining and wishing that we had more.
I know what you’re probably thinking, “She’s one to talk. I bet she doesn’t practice what she preaches!” I will admit that I am not a saint! I was just as guilty as everyone else. However, this time last year that changed. I decided that if I can be genuinely good for a month, then what is preventing me from doing it all year? For the past year I have made the effort to be more respectful and giving to others. Honestly speaking, I do feel better about myself and there isn’t a day that goes by where I forget to be grateful for the people that I have in my life and the blessings I receive. So, if I can do it. Why can’t you? You can’t use the excuse that it costs too much because it doesn’t cost anything to be courteous and time doesn’t cost you a piaster either. The resources you need for the job, you already have; it’s ‘YOU’.

Happy Ramadan Everyone!

Have you ever had a childhood dream of wanting to do or become something?
I had many career ambitions when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a WWF wrestler because I was a Tom boy and I liked the idea of being to lift someone high above my head and throwing them (very lady like!), It then changed to wanting to join the Navy Seals because I really liked their combat boots and defense tactics (but mainly for the boots), then I wanted to be a teacher for the deaf after seeing a movie where people taught children to sign, from there I decided that I would much prefer to be a lawyer so that I could argue my point all day long and get paid for it and then I wanted to be a child psychologist because they charged a lot of money by the hour while helping disturbed children. I didn’t join the World Wrestling Federation or the Navy Seals to my father’s relief. I ended up being an Elementary School teacher and a Writer, neither of which were on my dream job list as a child. I can’t complain, I really enjoy what I do and I do it well, (I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet).

My Father on the other hand, did fulfill his childhood dream of understanding how aero planes functioned and how to fly them. After studying and obtaining a degree in Mechanical Engineering like his Mother wanted, he furthered his studies in Aerodynamics and Fluid Mechanics and even went a step further and obtained his flying license as a commercial pilot. The only thing he didn’t get to do was fly for an airline. He had applied to work for one, but the head of the airline at the time said the only way he would ever fly for that company was if he paid him 10,000 pounds. My father being a man of integrity refused to cough up the money. He wanted to earn his job the right way.

Over the years my Dad taught ground school at a flying school in Montreal, lectured in Saudi Arabia and taught his students Engineering, how to build wind tunnels, aerodynamics and even took them for a ride in a plane as their pilot. His students always learned a lot from him; perhaps it’s because he’s so passionate about aircrafts and is like an excited little boy playing with a toy. If there is a movie, program or a news report related to airplanes, he will focus all his attention on what is being said.

Last year, my Dad taught ground school at one of the flying Academies in Amman, Jordan.  I went to visit him during the Easter break and on Friday we went to Carrefour to have lunch together, to my amazement a big group of his students go there every Friday too and they all sit together, have lunch and talk about flying. As I ate and observed I could tell that these young men had great respect for their teacher and felt at ease in his company. They were really upset that he didn’t stay on a second year and put their allowance together to buy him a model airplane as a farewell gift.
His colleagues were sad to see him go as well. They have kept in touch and have recommended him to other flying academies in the region.

Their recommendations didn’t go unheard, because now, My Dad is a consultant for two of the Flying Academies in Amman, Jordan and a Student recruiter for the flying schools in Amman and one in Montreal, Canada. I don’t think they could have asked for a better representative, because he has the passion for flying and can answer almost any question related to planes and engines. I’m not saying that because he’s my Dad, I’m saying it on the basis of being a teacher myself. I know what it takes to get students to be interested in a subject and to love it as much as you do.

As a kid my Dad would take my Mum, sister and I to they flying club in Montreal, and we would go up in a small four seated, propeller jet engine. He would teach my sister and I how to use the controls and fly the plane. I was useless! My parents had trained me ever since I was a baby to fall asleep on planes, (especially during long Trans Atlantic flights) so just minutes after getting clearance from the tower, and taking off. I would be fast asleep. My younger sister was a natural! Much to my father’s delight!
When my Dad is up in the sky in a plane, he is in his element. It’s almost as though he was meant to be up there.

If you have dreamed of being a pilot or going in to the field of aviation and you live in Egypt. Check out Captain Nabil El Abdin’s web page on facebook. Get in touch with him and he can tell you how to apply to the flying Academies in Jordan or in Montreal, Canada.

It’s never too late to fulfill your childhood dream.

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