Personal Development is Professional Development

Maria BossaBy Maria Bossa

It is hard to describe what happens when we meet a friend for the first time because we need to write about one individual moment, deep feelings and sudden emotions, but in this case… it is very easy. I ‘met’—in the virtual sense of the word—this teacher the very last day of an online course back in 2011. I had written my final reflections about a session on using web 2.0 tools in the classroom when a stranger suddenly popped up in my messaging application and wrote that my words were the exact words she, “wanted to say but didn’t know how to express them.” Since that first exchange of messages, we have become colleagues, friends and sisters-of-the-heart, sometimes even referred to by people who know us as the ‘online twins.’ Ayat Al-Tawel is not only a teacher of English from Cairo, Egypt but might also be seen as my “serious half”.

Maria and Ayat photoAyat has been teaching English for some time and recently she has also become an Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) trainer. She has helped me a lot in my professional life because she is always willing to “jump in” on one of my crazy projects. In fact, right after that course on using Web 2.0 tools was finished, I decided that I wanted to use Skype in my classroom, and I wanted Ayat to be a part of it. The idea was that my students could interview her. I didn’t have any specific topic in mind, just to interview her as part of using a new tool and for my students to have contact with someone from so far away. Ayat and I discussed this idea and she liked it. Then, she decided to do the same with her students but in her case, she introduced the topics of ‘forests in South America’ and ‘Messi, the Argentinian football player’. Students from both classes were eager to ask questions and participate. One of my students even danced Arabian music for Ayat! Ayat and I felt there was no need to let all that energy simply disappear, so we created the Facebook group called ‘ArgentEgypt’ and for three months our students in Egypt and Argentina shared everything from birthday wishes to dreams about their futures.

When I was ready to take the next step in my professional development and wanted to reach out and share what I was doing in my classroom in a more formal setting, Ayat was there for me again. She helped me to organise my experiences into presentations for webinars. And when I was unexpectedly invited by the Secretary of Education to talk about our “ArgentEgypt” project at an Education Congress in my city, Ayat advised me on what to include in the slides; with her help, I ended up expanding my presentation to include other ways I had used information technologies in my classes and, I hope, conveyed how important ICT is to learning in general. Ayat wasn’t able to attend my presentation physically, but she was there in every word I spoke, from beginning to end. Last year I was honoured to receive a scholarship from the University of Oregon (USA) to do a professional teacher’s course there and was named “City Ambassador” by our city’s mayor. This recognition of what I have accomplished wouldn’t have been possible without Ayat.

Even though we became fast on-line friends, I only first met Ayat in person in December 2012 when I traveled to Cairo. We had finished the ArgentEgypt project and I felt such a strong connection and sense of gratitude that I went to visit Ayat’s school and her students. My trip was a bit long as I had to travel from Buenos Aires to Rome and from there to Cairo. It was nearly 24-hours of travel in total. Ayat was at the airport with her sister and when I walked through customs we immediately knew we were going to be friends forever. When we were finally standing in front of each other, she gave me the best and warmest hug two friends could ever have. And here is the thing, it was spending time with Ayat that I learned that Professional Development and Personal Development are one and the same thing. The welcoming and warmth of Ayat’s family, spending time in her home, learning about her city, all of these things were just as important to me as spending time at her school and seeing how Ayat taught. I rode a camel, I hung out with King Tutankhamen, and I climbed the pyramids! And as I grew closer to Ayat as a friend and explored and shared her world, I also grew as a person.

No matter how many kilometres apart Ayat and I may be geographically, we are always emotionally close to each other, our hearts just one small step of empathy apart. Yes, I know it is important to support other teachers. I know that we should respect and further each other professionally. I know we must help each other grow as teachers. But I also know now, thanks to Ayat’s example, how much kindness and openness can also help us grow and develop as people. As her “older crazy sister” I just want to say “thank you”. Thank you for helping me learn about myself and the world around me. Thank you for being my sister. ‘Thank you’… It’s quite simple, right? Amazing how a simple message of thanks is often enough to allow us to both give and receive so much.

[In Argentina, we celebrate “Friend’s Day” on July 20th. Though I called Ayat very early in the morning, I could not give her a gift in person. In honour of, and to celebrate our friendship, I dedicate this post to my friend and sister Ayat Al-Tawel.]

Mother and Daughter, Two Teachers

by Maria BossaMaria Bossa

My dear friend and colleague Ayat Tawel recently posted an interview with her sister on the iTDi blog. She invited me to take part in the conversation, so I used the chance to interview my mother as she also worked as a teacher here in Argentina. She taught French for almost 15 years, but she has now been retired for 10 years. As we talked, we spent a lot of time discussing education as it is one topic we share and it is something she is still in love with. Her name is Maria Hedit but we call her “Nuno”. She is 70 years old and I am 43.

Maria_Bossa_and_MotherMaria: In what aspects do you think Education has changed from when you were a teacher to today?

Nuno: Before, when I was a teacher, there were different subjects being taught, subjects with a more technical orientation or more practical one. For example, French is not taught any longer as it has been replaced by English due to globalisation. As you know, our educational system has changed as our government has taken and/or added subjects due to political necessities and not because of any real educational needs. Argentina’s system used to be one of the best in Latin America for many years. Now it was become one of the least respected. Many people think that “the past is better than the present” and in the case of education in Argentina, I truly agree with that statement.

 Maria: Would you go back to classes? Would you want to teach again?

Nuno: No!! Not at all! I never liked teaching; I did it because it was compulsory for me as we (the family) needed the money.

(Note: My mom became a teacher when both my brother and I were at University. My father had lost his job and she decided to help him. My brother and I didn’t suffer a lot her absence at home as we were grown-ups. I felt proud of being her daughter as she taught in a School of Art.)

Maria: Both you and me are teachers… what things do we have in common? How are we different from each other?

Nuno: There are no differences at all! We are like two peas in a pod. We are both responsible, always in and on time, we don’t like to be mediocre, we are always eager to learn new things. Again, there are no differences… “Like mother, like daughter”.

Maria: Has there been any moment that you have felt proud of my achievements as a teacher?

Nuno: Yes, always. You have never stopped learning; you are always trying to be and become a better teacher. You are always studying, attending courses. And all that effort has been recognized by the school principals who check on you, who grade you every year. In public schools like the ones you teach at, it is necessary that your superiors observe what you do, not because you will get an increase on your salary but because they can know exactly what you are doing in case parents complain. Observations ensure that you can have support from your principals because they know what you are doing.

Maria: What other job/profession do you think I could have taken if I hadn’t been a teacher?

Nuno: Since I can remember, you always wanted to be a teacher. When you were a child, you always imagined you were a teacher; you taught to plants, trees, imaginary people. I think you were born to be a teacher. Do you remember when we went on holidays and you took a “portfolio” (Note: here in Argentina, a portfolio is like a school bag) with books inside and taught to everybody? However, I can suggest one thing you could have become, a singer. You also like singing. I still remember when you sang inside the house and imagined you were a pop start! Your microphone was a yellow pen!

Maria: Having a daughter who is a teacher, what things would you change or improve in today’s Education system?

Nuno: It is difficult to reply this question because the world has changed and education has changed with it. What I do believe is that “values” have been left aside and teachers find it hard to teach without them. Another thing I can see is that teachers are always multitasking… you have to be and have different roles apart from being a teacher. But parents don’t respect you as a teacher! They quarrel with you without any problem! Values are not taken into account! I think that we have to go back in time.

I enjoyed interviewing my mother and hearing her replies to my questions. She has always trusted my decision to become a teacher. I can also truly understand my mother’s frustration with some of the changes that have happened in the education system. Though we have a National Ministry of Education, each province has its own Ministry with its own autonomy so, depending on the province in which you work, the system can be very different. In addition, our private schools are only private because students pay a fee. But in reality, teachers are paid with money from the government. “Private” private schools are very rare. Currently I teach 27 hours a week split between a primary and a secondary school. I have almost 350 students but like the rest of the teachers in my province, I don’t have a fixed classroom and have to be on the move constantly as it is the students who have a classroom for their own each year. In my secondary school, there are only 20 classrooms for 1100 students. Still, even with all of the difficulties that come with being a teacher in Argentina, I guess that my mother would have never ever let me choose any other profession.