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Interview with Nada Salem AbiSamra (NAS)
By Bashir Barrage
September 2005

INTERVIEWER: What has been your greatest achievement so far?
NAS: Maybe going back to university. You might have seen it on my website, “Nada’s ESL Island”
(http://nadabs.tripod.com); I majored in translation first at Saint Joseph University, then I went back to the American University of Beirut and studied for a teaching diploma; I’m now finishing my master degree in Teaching English as a Second/Foreign Language… now, after such a long time. I think a lot of things in my life have been achievements. I worked as a translator for some time, but then I realized that teaching was my passion; so, I changed my whole career and then went back to university. This was an achievement because I did what I’m passionate about. I still translate every now and then, but teaching is my main job. In addition, I think that creating the English Mentorship Program (http://peermentorship.tripod.com) at The American Community School, where I teach, was also an achievement. I recruited extremely talented and dedicated high school students willing to sacrifice their time to help their “mentees” (students in grades 6 to 11) improve in English mainly, and in all English-based disciplines. I trained those student “Mentors” and gave them teaching jobs in which, unlike tutoring, they also focus on their mentees’ emotional, social, and organizational skills. They meet once or twice a week- according to the mentees’ needs. This program would be extremely helpful in any context. I think all schools should start one, and I am willing to help any school that would like to.

INTERVIEWER: How long have you been teaching?
NAS: I have been teaching in schools since September 1991 and at Saint-Joseph University since September 1992.

INTERVIEWER: What is your favorite book?
NAS: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

INTERVIEWER: And your favorite movie?
NAS: The Devil’s Advocate (with Al Pacino) whose message is that we should never sell our soul to the devil; we never get it back. The end should never justify the means. I like movies that convey strong and positive messages.

INTERVIEWER: What’s your greatest idea in teaching?
NAS: Incorporating the Internet, getting students to design their own websites, publishing their work online… I think this is one of the best things I have done.

INTERVIEWER: What was your worst idea in teaching?
NAS: Thinking, at any point in time, that I can control everything in my class.

INTERVIEWER: Are you a good teacher?
NAS: This is a tough question to answer. I think that, if you’re passionate about something, you will be good at doing it. I’m passionate about teaching, I love it, I love the students, I love communicating with them, and I love to learn from them. Each year, I learn so much. I learn much more from them than they learn from me. This does not mean that I don’t teach them enough; I do teach them a lot, but I still learn more from them.

INTERVIEWER: How do you deal with cheating?
NAS: When I enter a classroom, when I establish this rapport with students, I feel that we have this bond, and that we have this trust… whenever someone cheats or lies, for me it’s an extremely big thing. How I deal with it? I don’t take drastic measures immediately; I give a second chance, but I make the student know that this is the worst thing that he or she can do.

INTERVIEWER: Are all children intelligent?
NAS: Yes, especially if you refer to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory: every child has a certain type of intelligence… every child. Maybe here I should also mention Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman). Goleman says that emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the factors that determine success in life. I don’t believe that all students are emotionally intelligent, but what is good about it is that we can work on it and improve it; unlike IQ. Maybe one of the things I will do in the future is devise curricula for helping and training students to become emotionally intelligent, if this is what determines their success in life.

INTERVIEWER: Is it OK for a student who is good at Music to be bad at Science?
NAS: Yes, of course. You can’t have everything; you’re either gifted here or there. Yes, it is ok, but I still believe that this student has to do his or her best in order to succeed at school– not be a genius in both, but at least succeed.

INTERVIEWER: Who was your worst teacher?
NAS: I can’t tell you.

INTERVIEWER: Why was he or she a bad teacher?
NAS: Because there was no interaction in his/her classroom; he or she would just come in, write on the board, teach the lesson, and not communicate with us. Communication – this is the most important thing, as well as making the students feel that the teacher is there for them, and will always be there for them. This was not present in that teacher.

INTERVIEWER: Can bad teaching be punishable by law?
NAS: Who would be punished? The school that hired the teacher? You can fire a bad teacher. Before a school hires a teacher, they have to interview and evaluate his/her skills to see whether he/she has the qualities of a good teacher. If, at the end of the year, the school realizes that the teacher did not do a good job, then this teacher will be advised to do something else that he or she is passionate about.

INTERVIEWER: Do you prefer quiet or disruptive students?
NAS: I need students to be somewhere “in between.” I need them to be serious, responsible, motivated, reliable, hard working, but I also want them to communicate with me and with their classmates. I always encourage quiet students to speak up and talk and be more interactive in the classroom. I don’t want them to be too quiet; I cannot teach a class where no one talks. I like it when students ask questions, when they interact with me, when they interact with each other, when they give their opinions…We’re teaching human beings not people with no emotions.

INTERVIEWER: What’s the ideal student for you?
NAS: The ideal student is one who is hard-working, motivated, passionate, patient, and committed. A student who listens and follows directions, stays on task without having to be reminded to do so, shows initiative and contributes to the class positively, respects him/herself, his/her teachers, peers and property.

INTERVIEWER: How much does talent play in teaching?
NAS: Teaching is an art and a science. It’s both, but talent has a lot to do with it. I don’t know if it’s a gift, but you need to be talented; you need to love teaching and love the students. If you love the students and you love the subject that you’re teaching then, as long as you’re willing to make the effort to plan, to get the students motivated and involved, you will be a good teacher.

INTERVIEWER: How many books do you read per month?
NAS: I don’t have time to read books for leisure because I’m working on my thesis, so the books that I’m reading are related to it. I’m reading papers, articles, and I’m also reading what I need for teaching. But I’m not reading any novels now, unfortunately.

INTERVIEWER: How often do you go on the Internet?
NAS: Very often. Every day at least six hours because, both at school and at home, I always have to go on the Internet, send e-mails, do research, create web sites and maintain them, etc.

INTERVIEWER: How do you choose your textbooks?
NAS: I don’t choose textbooks for ESL. I believe in eclectic teaching. I take from here and there. Because I’ve been a teacher for a long time, I think I know where to get what I need, whether it is from the Internet, because there are lots of interesting sites for the students to work on and learn from, or whether it is from the books that I have used before. As for the yearbook class, I am using some books I brought with me from the States.

INTERVIEWER: How much do you spend on professional development?
NAS: I’m still studying, so it’s an ongoing thing. For instance, now, I’m going to attend a yearbook workshop at The American School in London. The school sent me to two workshops in June: one for ESL, and it was in Washington DC, and another one for yearbook, and it was in New York. Before that, in April, ACS also sent me to Turkey to attend a NESA (Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools) conference. I love attending conferences and workshops and I believe that you cannot just be based on what you have learned at university (although I haven’t really stopped); you have to keep abreast of all research and all changes in the educational system. At ACS, we have a lot of teachers from the States, Canada, Australia, etc… and they, along with our very experienced and talented local teachers, give a lot of workshops every year. I attend some of them and enjoy them. Besides, I even learn more when I give workshops myself; and, since I am a technology mentor, I have to give at least 5 technology workshops per year, aside from the other kind of workshops I can give for “Mini-NESA” in November or “Building Knowledge Together” in April, for example, that many teachers from Lebanon and the neighboring countries attend.

INTERVIEWER: In a few words, what is the mission statement of the ideal school?
NAS: It is a school that bases everything that is done on what is in the student’s best interest, and also keeps in mind that teachers as well need to be happy, content, and well-trained (up to date) so they can teach well. If teachers aren’t satisfied, they cannot satisfy their students and help them grow to become productive, insightful, and self-fulfilled citizens.

INTERVIEWER: What would you do if you could no longer teach?
NAS: I would design web pages and, if I could, I would join or set up an organization/ association to help the underprivileged people (especially women and kids) in Lebanon, and then around the world, if I can.

INTERVIEWER: Why don’t we have any children authors?
NAS: Because children have to fulfill their own needs before they fulfill the needs of others. I have an eighth grade student who is so gifted; he wrote a long story which was very interesting and compelling. I think that this student will, in the future, be able to write books. I saw him working on the computer and he would just sit for hours; if he didn’t have to go out, he would spend all his time in my room writing. So, we could have children authors, but I think they need first to complete their education and fulfill their needs; once they have, they can start being authors.

INTERVIEWER: Should teachers be certified before they enter a classroom?
NAS: What do you mean by certified? Certified in the States is one thing, and certified in Lebanon is another. Certified in Lebanon is, for example, what I did at AUB: studying for a Teaching Diploma; and I did so although I had studied for a Master’s degree in Translation before that. Everyone was asking me, “Why do you want to go back and study for a teaching diploma?” I can’t tell you how much I benefited from those courses – tremendously... although before I had my teaching diploma I had taught for a long time, and was doing well – I loved my students and my students loved me, I still think the teaching diploma helped me a lot. So, yes, I think teachers should get a certification at some point.

INTERVIEWER: What are you lacking to become the perfect teacher?
NAS: I can’t become the perfect teacher; no one can become the perfect teacher. I need a lot of things. Sometimes I need to be more patient, sometimes I need to communicate better with my students... I am a human being and I have my weaknesses; I don’t think I will ever become the perfect teacher. I always aim for that, but I don’t think I will ever reach it. Anyway, are humans supposed to be perfect?

INTERVIEWER: Who is your favorite author?
NAS: If I can say that Homer is an author, then he is the one; I love “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad." Also our own Gebran Khalil Gebran; I love him and love his wonderful book “The Prophet.”

INTERVIEWER: What do you think of coeducation?
NAS: I encourage it; we have it here at ACS and it is good. Since school is a miniature of our own life, and boys and girls are in this world together, then they have to be together at school and learn to study side by side. Why provide them with a world that is different from the one they are living in?

INTERVIEWER: So what do you think of single gender schools?
NAS: I’m just afraid that, in single gender schools, when boys or girls look at the other gender, they do so in a fearful or an awestruck way. They should not; they are the same human beings. You see, this is the only thing I’m afraid of. I know that, if you forbid people to do what they need to do, to talk to another person, for example, they will, later on, when they cannot be forbidden anymore, do much more than they should. Things should go just the way they go – naturally.