By Walaa Muadamani
"Hope is born from the pain. From negative experiences often come the positive."
These are the words of Alaa Khoshfa, who has been living out these words during her young professional career in education. She currently works in the higher education section at Multi-Aid Programs (MAPs), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that aims to develop the capacity of individuals to create good, dignified societies through promoting the best of human knowledge, understanding and values. The organization’s work particularly focuses on building the capacity of the Syrian refugee community in Lebanon. The higher education section partners include Southern New Hampshire University students in Lebanon.
A great example of how she lived out the aforementioned quote was during the COVID-19 pandemic. She taught English at MAPs in the Women’s Empowerment Project. Due to the pandemic, the project moved online. It was quite a challenge to teach creatively so students could understand the key concepts.
"Online teaching is more difficult than offline teaching,” she said. “You need to be creative, so I used different ways like photos, videos, presentations and speaking activities."
One of the speaking activities is cards that carry numbers. There is a topic behind each one and the women know it before the session. They then prepare and speak about it.
During her class, she focused on grammar, speaking, reading, and writing. She taught 120 hours online, 60 hours pre-intermediate for 20 students, and 60 hours intermediate for 20 students. The age of students is between 16 - 35 years, and some of them missed their studies. They are mostly Syrian, and some are Lebanese.
The results were good as evidenced by the story of a Syrian refugee woman. She did not know anything about the English language. She wanted to learn the language to help her children in their studies and took part in the pre-intermediate class. By the end of the course, she could read, recognize the grammar and know the meaning of words. Moreover, the students do an exam, presentation and speaking video to pass the course.
After this experience, MAPs asked Alaa if she would like to work on the administration side in higher education.
“It was a great chance to work with higher education students in a different capacity, improve my skills and gain new experiences,” she explained. “So, I decided to move forward and accept this role.”
She has been working in this position for a few months. She realized that she should treat students like friends, but that she also needs to be firm in some cases. At times it was a challenge to get the students to follow the rules without losing their friendship.
One of her tasks is to be the coach for students. This involves talking with each student weekly about their studies and any challenges faced. As an SNHU student, I was comfortable talking with her because she is friendly and trusted.
I was really interested to hear Alaa’s career advice. It underscored the following principles:
- Be patient and persevere in the midst of difficulties. Alaa faced this when she taught Syrian refugee students who missed their primary school. Previous teachers said that they were naughty students. With patience and a new perspective, Alaa treated them kindly and they ultimately trusted her.
- Read job-related books and use online resources to innovate. Alaa read books related to education and how to treat children. That was helpful in how she interacted with students. Moreover, she always used the internet to learn other ideas. This was particularly helpful during the four years of teaching the online course for women. As an example, she read the book "Study Smarty, not Hardy" and gained new perspectives on how each student memorizes the information.
- Strive to teach different types of learners. Alaa’s teaching varied significantly, from working with young children in kindergarten, primary school students and women. This gave her the ability to invent creative ways to deal with different learners.
From my interview with Alaa, I learned different ways to approach challenges. At university, one of Alaa’s instructors advised her to change the field she was studying. He thought that she could not be an English language teacher. That made her sad, but she worked hard and turned it into a challenge for success. In addition, her professional career proves her success and ability to defy the odds. She believed in her ability to be a teacher.
When I was in Syria, I could not complete my studies because of my travel to Lebanon, and I stopped studying for two years. Now I am a student at SNHU and I hope that I can graduate from the university and work in a field that helps my community. So, I know that I need to believe in my skills and the ability to succeed. I must not give up or despair but try again.
As Alaa’s story shows, continuous work to develop skills generates creativity at work, moving from one success to another, and the positive results of working with sincerity are a motivation to continue and succeed.
Connect with Alaa Khoshfa via email at Khoshfaalaa@gmail.com
Walaa Muadamani is a student at the Southern New Hampshire University of America.
You can connect with her on LinkedIn.